The Lakers listened to the cynicism, the doubt, the nationwide theories that they were getting older by the game, and came up with a rebuttal.
Lakers 111, Oklahoma City 87.
In the wake-up call heard 'round the NBA, the Lakers pummeled the Thunder in Game 5 on Tuesday, looking like defending champions for the first time since ... forever.
They were balanced on offense, remarkably angry on defense and took a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series that continues Friday in Oklahoma City.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum said it was a "must-win," and played like it.
Kobe Bryant looked plenty spry after insisting on guarding Russell Westbrook, forcing the 21-year-old point guard into two-of-eight shooting and five turnovers in the first half won by the Lakers, 55-34.
The Lakers looked like they dropped 10 years in three days, the bedraggled unit that lost by 21 in Game 4 springing to life with a dominant effort.
Even the fans at Staples Center seemed to dial it up a few notches, nothing like the stand-the-entire-game fanaticism in Oklahoma City, but certainly different from the usual game-time environment bordering on low-key coffeehouse or, on especially quiet nights, polite museum opening.
"We just got beat up, every phase of the game," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said.
It started down low, Bynum making eight of 10 shots, scoring a playoff-career-high 21 points and taking 11 rebounds. Gasol made 10 of 16 shots and had 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
"I think we needed a game like this," Gasol said. "We wanted to make a statement and get used to this kind of rhythm, this kind of pace, this kind of aggressiveness."
Bryant, sore knee and all, had 13 points and seven assists, making a bigger impact defensively on Westbrook.
"I enjoy a challenge," Bryant said. "He's been playing sensational. If we're going to be eliminated, I didn't want to go into summer thinking I could have done something about it."
On one play, Westbrook looked like he had a step on everybody on a fastbreak, but Bryant caught him, forced him to alter his thinking mid-air, and caused a turnover when Westbrook threw the ball to Derek Fisher. The Lakers then scored on a Bynum dunk at the other end.
The Lakers had been getting run off the court by the Thunder, outscored in fastbreak points the first four games, 72-17, and prompting Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to say Oklahoma City was "inconsiderate" of the Lakers' team speed.
The Lakers actually won the category in Game 5, outscoring the Thunder in fastbreak points, 12-7.
Lakers fans had been a little high-strung after their team dropped two games in Oklahoma City. Jackson even said there was an event at a gas station, declining to go into specifics, but it likely involved an irritated fan.
"It's a lot of concern, there's no doubt about it," Jackson said, smiling. "I've been lightening the mood as I go around."
But Oklahoma City missed its first 13 shots before Kevin Durant finally scored with 5:49 left in the first quarter. Durant made only five of 14 shots.
The Lakers even got a reasonable contribution on offense from Ron Artest, who had 14 points, five assists and made two of four three-point attempts after coming into the game three of 23 from long distance.
The Lakers shot 53.8%, the Thunder only 36.9%. The Lakers had 10 blocked shots, the Thunder only three. The Lakers had 27 assists, the Thunder had 18.
It was the first half that determined the game, the Lakers taking a 21-point lead by holding the Thunder to 26.2% shooting while shooting 64.9% themselves.
It was a victory for a team that needed one. The defending champions aren't done yet.
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