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Thunder finish off Lakers

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Associated Press
May 22, 2012

Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, Kevin Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder surged ahead in the second half to beat Los Angeles 106-90 in Game 5 on Monday night and eliminate the Lakers from the playoffs.


The two All-Stars both bypassed their breaks in the second half and used the time they’d normally be resting to fuel the big run that put away the game and end the Lakers’ season.


Westbrook had a pair of three-point plays during a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, and Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77.


Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers.


The Thunder open the Western Conference finals on Sunday at top-seeded San Antonio.


After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year.


The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle’s only NBA title in 1979.


Once there, they’ll face the top-seeded Spurs, the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18-game winning streak.


Westbrook went running to the scorer’s table and pumped his fist in the air after his first energizing three-point play, when he was able to flip the ball in after Ramon Sessions fouled him on the fast break.


He converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter.


Durant extended the lead with a three-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later—just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer’s table to check in after a brief rest.


There was little Bryant could do after he got back in, despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career.


After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive—much as he had with Gasol and Andrew Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver.


Gasol came through with a monster game—23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists—and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn’t get nearly as much help against the Thunder.


Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10.


The Thunder got five of their first eight baskets on dunks and controlled the boards early on, grabbing 16 of the game’s first 22 rebounds while keeping Los Angeles off the offensive glass for the first 11 minutes.


Bryant had to create all of the offense, scoring 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum’s three-point play.


-- Celtics 101, 76ers 85—At Boston, Brandon Bass scored 18 of his postseason career-high 27 points in the third quarter as Boston pulled away from Philadelphia to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.


Kevin Garnett added 20 points and Rajon Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists for the Celtics, who can advance to the East finals with a victory in Philadelphia in Game 6 on Wednesday. The Sixers would need a win there to force the series back to Boston for a decisive seventh game Saturday.


Elton Brand scored 19 and Evan Turner had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Philadelphia, which led by six points early in the third quarter before Boston scored 14 of the next 16 points. Bass scored eight of them, including back-to-back dunks followed by a steal that set up Ray Allen’s fast-break layup to give the Celtics a 63-57 lead with five minutes left in the quarter.


Van Gundy fired

For months the Orlando Magic have been trudging through the aftermath of a preseason trade request by Dwight Howard that sapped the life out of the franchise as internal team issues quickly affected the product on the floor.


Now after easily one of the most tumultuous seasons in their history, they made the first in what promises to be a huge offseason shake-up


The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history.


Smith and Van Gundy’s relationship with Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted.


“It’s time for a new leadership and a new approach,” Martins said at a news conference to discuss the moves. “We simply came to the decision that we were not on the right track,”


Martins wouldn’t go into many specifics about what he is looking for in replacements, saying only that he and ownership want to fill the general manager post by June’s NBA draft.


He said he would sit down with ownership on Tuesday to begin ironing out the details of both searches.


Phone and text messages left with Van Gundy and Smith by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.


Orlando went 37-29 in the regular season but was eliminated in five games by Indiana after a rash of late-season injuries that included back surgery for Howard. Orlando went 5-12 without him.


Martins said those consecutive first-round playoff exits were “simply not good enough.”


In early April, Van Gundy claimed top-ranking team officials had told him that Howard had asked management to fire Van Gundy as a condition of the center signing a long-term contract beyond 2013. Howard denied it.


Martins addressed that dispute directly, saying “At no time during that time did Dwight ask me to have Stan fired.”



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