Pau Gasol couldn't stop pounding Kobe Bryant on the back as they embraced after the game.
One, two, three, four times, maybe more, as the Lakers came from 18 points down to eventually beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in double overtime, 114-106, Sunday at Staples Center.
It signaled the start of the playoffs a week before they began and left two lingering questions: Was it a fluke? And how long would Metta World Peace be suspended for elbowing Thunder reserve James Harden in the head?
PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Thunder
Jordan Hill was an implausible hero, replacing unproductive Andrew Bynum for the entire fourth quarter and both overtimes on the way to 14 points and 15 rebounds. Devin Ebanks was right behind him on the wow list, taking two key steals in the second overtime and often guarding Kevin Durant all by himself.
Kobe Bryant was there all along, of course, shooting a ragged nine-for-26 but making game-seizing shots down the stretch as the Lakers took a firm hold on third place in the Western Conference and beat the Thunder for the first time in three tries this season.
But many eyes will be on the NBA's disciplinary office Monday.
World Peace made a great move to beat Durant on a fastbreak dunk, then started aggressively thumping his chest and threw an out-of-control left elbow at Harden, who never returned because of a concussion.
As Harden was down, World Peace made the added mistake of assuming a belligerent posture, as if ready to box, when Durant and Serge Ibaka approached him near midcourt. Referees stepped between them to stop further escalation.
World Peace was ejected for a flagrant foul, leaving the Lakers with a host of problems going forward.
Not only could he miss playoff games, but he has been unveiling his best basketball of the season, if not three years with the Lakers, showing more of a take-charge attitude on the court (in a good way) and averaging 16.3 points in the seven games Bryant missed because of a sore left shin.
He had 12 points, five rebounds and three steals before he was ejected, the Lakers trailing, 48-47, with 1:37 left in the second quarter.
He made a brief statement after the game but did not take questions from reporters on the advice of a Lakers publicist.
"I got real emotional and real excited and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow," said World Peace, who was suspended for 73 games for his role in the infamous Palace Brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2004. "The Thunder, they're playing for a championship this year, so I really hope that he's OK. I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden."
The Lakers' final regular-season game is Thursday at Sacramento but World Peace's suspension will surely bleed into the playoffs. The Lakers (41-24) clinch third place in the West if they beat Sacramento or if the Clippers lose at Atlanta or New York.
The Lakers are suddenly thin at small forward because Matt Barnes sustained a sprained right ankle and was limping after the game. He will be re-evaluated Monday.
Harden had 14 points and did not comment afterward, but Thunder forward Thabo Sefolosha called it a "stupid play" and Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks called it "dangerous" and "unacceptable."
"It's not a play that should be involved in basketball," Brooks said.
Beyond blowing an 18-point lead, the Thunder had plenty of chances to win, including Durant's missed three-point attempt at the end of regulation and Russell Westbrook's missed three-point attempt at the end of the first overtime.
Stunningly, Durant made only 11 of 34 shots (32%) and Westbrook made only three of 22 attempts (14%), blurring the distinction between a lucky victory and a skillful one for the Lakers, who before Sunday had been 1-4 against the West's top two teams, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
Bryant was only two for 13 going into the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he hit back-to-back three-pointers in the last 1:20 of regulation, including a running one-footer to his left as the shot clock expired.
Bryant hit a turn-around 20-footer with 52.5 seconds left in the second overtime and, after the first of Ebanks' clutch steals, made two free throws for a 108-104 lead.
Jack Nicholson stood and showered in the applause on his 75th birthday. Dyan Cannon kept yelling "awesome, awesome" as she disappeared under a tunnel after the game.
"It was good to have one like that," Bryant said.