Kobe Bryant has long been accustomed to the phrase "Kobe-stopper," with plenty of defenders across NBA cities lining up for the challenge of shutting him down, game after game, season after season.
It was time for a new twist in Game 5: Bryant became the Westbrook-stopper.
The 31-year-old shooting guard bumped and ran with the 21-year-old Oklahoma City point guard, turning a problem spot into a 3-2 series lead for the Lakers.
Russell Westbrook made four of 13 shots and committed eight turnovers, a big reason the Thunder was crushed by the Lakers on Tuesday, 111-87.
"He was probably surprised," said Bryant, who planned to guard Westbrook again in Game 6. "He's a big key to the team. He's the motor to their team, and I think of myself as being a great defender, so …"
So the Lakers lived to see another day, and then some, after debating for more than a week whether to put Bryant on Westbrook.
"We've talked about it and thought about it for five games now, so the fifth game we did it," Coach Phil Jackson said. "It was an idea that we better have this particular aspect right away, pronto, because Westbrook was overrunning our team."
Wednesday was a day of rest and recovery for a team that won't play again until Friday, a similar break in the action that served the Lakers well leading up to Game 5, another period of two full days without games after playing every other day through the series' first four games.
"I think the one [extra] day off helped us out a lot … helped our legs, helped Kobe a lot," Ron Artest said. "That's the hardest we've played all year. We've got to play like that every game."
Bryant wasn't looking for his shot Tuesday, going four for nine on the way to 13 points, but he had seven assists, often looking for Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol down low. The 7-footers combined for 46 points, 22 rebounds, 69% shooting and six assists.
"They were very active," Bryant said. "They were moving and running the floor. On top of them having the size, they also have speed and athletic ability, so it's important for them to use it and run the floor. We can get them a lot of easy ones that way. Obviously, the passing that they do with each other is exceptional."
Bynum made eight of 10 shots and had 21 points in his fifth game since missing almost a month because of a strained left Achilles' tendon. Jackson has tried to limit him to shifts of five or six minutes in order to keep him fresh.
"I think that helps him out a little bit, that he can run hard, push himself through that," Jackson said. "He's not quite back into game condition yet, so he's still working into what he's capable of doing in short minutes."
Meanwhile, the Lakers have that one lingering problem: Game 6 in Oklahoma City, where they lost by 16 points last month, by five points Thursday and by 21 on Saturday.
The Lakers looked like they were ready to end the series in Game 5. Can they carry it over to Game 6?
"As we can see, home court holds a lot of sway in this series. We have to go with a certain sense of mentality, an armor about us that we have the ability to withstand whatever rushes they make, whatever adjustments they make," Jackson said.
He'll keep shooting
Artest broke out of a serieslong slump by making two of four three-point attempts in Game 5. He made three of 23 (13%) from long distance through the first four games.
Jackson said he didn't want Artest to shoot any more three-pointers from the corners, but Artest shrugged it off.
"If 10 corner threes is available, I'm going to take them," he said.
Artest's judgment on offense has been debatable, but it's tough to argue with his defense.
Kevin Durant is averaging 24.8 points, more than five below his regular-season average, and is shooting a ragged 38% after 47.6% accuracy in the regular season.
"Obviously, my defense is so unbelievable, I don't even care about offense right now," Artest said.
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