Lakers guard Kobe Bryant strikes a familiar pose as the Thunder begin to… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
In a thunderous arena before a leather-lunged sell-out audience, the Lakers fought for one more game, one more chance at postseason greatness, only to see it snuffed out by the newest Western Conference power: the Oklahoma City Thunder
The Lakers dispatched the Thunder in a tough six-game, first-round playoff series two seasons ago, but this season, the roles were reversed, and the Thunder dispatched the Lakers about as quickly as the pundits picked, four games to one, with a 106-90 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Game 5 on Monday night.
The second-seeded Thunder advance to the Western Conference finals, where the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs await. Game 1 of that series is Sunday at 5:30 PDT.
For the second consecutive season the Lakers' postseason reached only as far as the second round. Dallas showed the Lakers the door last season on their way to the NBA championship against Miami.
Coming into the game, only eight NBA playoff teams out of 208 had ever come back from a 3-1 playoff series deficit.
The third-seeded Lakers didn’t join that exclusive group and its 3.8 percentile, and instead they fell to 0-4 this season at the notoriously noisy Chesapeake Energy Arena, but not because of one Kobe Bryant.
The 33-year-old concluded his 16th season with a 42-point performance in 40 minutes on 18-of-30 shooting, carrying his team for nearly all of the night.
But Oklahoma City rode its three horses -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- to the win.
Those three combined for 70 points: Westbrook had 28, Durant 25, Harden 17.
Outside of Bryant, the Lakers didn’t get too much. Pau Gasol, whose future with the Lakers seems uncertain, had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace had 11 points and Andrew Bynum, who was saddled with foul trouble, had 10 points.
The Lakers received only five points off the bench.
Lakers basketball resumes with a preseason game Oct. 7 against Golden State in Fresno, but its roster is likely to be reconfigured, a process that will soon begin.
Thunder 83, Lakers 77 (end of the third quarter)
The light at the tunnel’s mouth is coming closer, brighter, fuller into view, and Kobe Bryant knows it. He can look away, shield his eyes or squint, but it is there, on an unstoppable approach. Yes, his Hall-of-Fame career is in its twilight, nearing its end, mostly because his creaky knees have a million minutes on the odometer and all the procedures in the world (and especially in Germany) can only turn back the clock so much.
Even Bryant knows that he can’t beat Father Time, who is still unbeaten, untied.
But all this makes Bryant’s performance in Game 5 against the Thunder all the more impressive.
There are moments when Bryant single-handedly wills his team toward a win, and he has been doing that for nearly the entirety of this back-and-forth contest.
He has 34 points, including 15 in the third quarter, on 14-of-23 shoting, plus he's made five of seven free throws and a three-pointer. He also has four dunks, which is probably a personal best this season if you care about that sort of thing.
But Bryant hasn’t gotten that much help from his teammates. Andrew Bynum, for instance, picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half and has been a non-factor.
As such, Oklahoma City was able to build some breathing room going into the fourth quarter, as it ended the third quarter on a 17-7 run.
Russell Westbrook has 20 points, 12 of them scored in the third, when he showcased that speed that the Lakers have struggled to stop each time these teams have met. Westbrook has received some help from Kevin Durant, who has 17 points, and James Harden, who has 15.
Thunder 54, Lakers 51 (halftime)
The Lakers are not going quietly into that good night.
They are not going down with one in the chamber.
*Another never-say-die cliché.*
But the Lakers’ tempers are burning hot and they’re burning through fouls, too, about as fast as an SUV burns through gasoline.
Of note, Metta World Peace was called for a highly questionable flagrant-one foul for a not-so-hard collision with Thabo Sefolosha at the basket with 31.9 seconds left.
World Peace was none too pleased with the call, which probably wouldn’t have been given to any other player, and his arguing led to a technical foul. Kobe Bryant, who has a game-high 19 points, was also upset with the whole thing, which led to another technical.
That led to a quick five points for Oklahoma City, which is why the score stands as is.
Speaking of fouls, Andrew Bynum has three of them. He scored his first points in the second quarter and had six before picking up his third.
Pau Gasol has already outscored his Game 4 performance with 10 first-half points and nine rebounds. He’s playing with that effort that Bryant publicly demanded and thereby deflecting any criticism of said effort after this game.