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Lakers have the upper hand

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By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010

LOS ANGELES Blog excerpt from washingtonpost.com/wilbon

The anxiety and apprehension that gripped greater L.A. for the better part of two full days was over 10 minutes into Game 5. The defending champion Lakers finally recognized the decided advantage they hold over Oklahoma City and played to it -- possession after possession after possession after possession.

With a numbing discipline, the Lakers -- even Kobe Bryant -- threw the ball inside to 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the two most skilled big men on the court, and they buried Oklahoma City. The only statistic that mattered in the Lakers' thoroughly one-sided victory is that Los Angeles scored 36 points in the paint the first half to Oklahoma City's 10. If the Lakers hold no other athletic advantage over the younger, quicker, more athletic and energetic Thunder, they have height and length, being nearer to the basket. That was the game, in a nutshell. There was no suspense, no reason whatsoever if you live in the East or Midwest not to turn off the TV and go to bed. The Big Event was a dud.

So much for all the panic, for the notion that Tuesday night was perhaps the night these Lakers would drag their old bodies around Staples Center for the final time together. The fear was palpable as the stars and starlets entered the building. Kobe was so injured, he looked so old, maybe he was simply done. Phil Jackson might be coaching his last game. Jerry Buss, the owner who had opened his checkbook to put this team on the floor, was going to dismantle the whole thing . . . if the Lakers lost Game 5 because surely they couldn't go there (if they'd lost here) and solve the Thunder in Oklahoma City, where the hosts had dismantled the champs twice last week.

Okay, the Lakers didn't win the series Tuesday night; they still have to go to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Friday and perhaps come back here for Game 7 on Sunday. And just because Bynum and Gasol can jump over the Thunder's players doesn't mean they can do that to San Antonio or Dallas or Phoenix or Utah. Still, you have to like the Lakers' chances now that they've figured out how to win.

Bryant is hurting more (back and knee) than he's letting on. And he still doesn't get to the basket much these days. We don't know what Kobe is capable of (or not) because Kobe played it smart from tipoff to buzzer in Game 5. He spent most of his energy guarding the previously unguardable Russell Westbrook, while on offense he mostly dumped the ball inside to Gasol and Bynum and piled up assists.

At the end of three quarters, Kobe had nine shots and seven assists. I dare you to find that ratio anywhere in his playoff portfolio. Ron Artest had five assists and no turnovers, and I dare you to find that, too. Gasol had 25 points and 11 rebounds. Bynum, who at times can be completely worthless, had 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting. There was no breaking ranks, no individual expression, just pounding the rock inside, like when you're playing your little shrimp brother on the playground. No Kobe acrobatics, no jacking up threes. When Artest took the floor looking more like President Obama about the head than Dennis Rodman, you knew the Lakers would be in no-nonsense mode.

If this is the best way for the Lakers to play this team, then perhaps they'd better embrace it. By the end of the third quarter, the champs had outscored the Thunder in the paint 50-14. Oklahoma City had no fast-break points to speak of, no second-chance points worth mentioning. The Thunder was docile, broken, at least for this game. The Lakers walked out of the locker room and just slapped the Thunder upside the head. It was 14-1, 29-14, 50-30. Oklahoma City missed its first 13 shots, four of which the Lakers blocked.

The Lakers didn't play like they were simply defending something; they played like they were trying to take something. They played with the kind of aggression, resolve and passion we hadn't seen from them in this series. We've seen Cleveland play that way, we've seen the Spurs play that way. We've seen the Celtics and Bucks, even the Bulls play that way, but not the Lakers -- until Game 5.


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