OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—The Los Angeles Lakers are moving on—battered and bruised, but not beaten.
Pau Gasol(notes) tipped in a missed jumper by Kobe Bryant(notes) with a half-second left and the defending champion Lakers survived a late comeback effort by Oklahoma City and eliminated the Thunder 95-94 in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series on Friday night.
“This is the playoffs. This is what it’s about,” Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. “When you have teams that have won 50 games in the course of a season like this Thunder team did, they have a sense of pride about them. They can play a game that’s obviously not far off of what our mark is or was this season.
“We said it was going to be tough, and it was a tough series.”
The Lakers were nearly pushed to the limit by eighth-seeded Oklahoma City, which won only 23 games last season before a 27-win improvement that was the best in the NBA. The Thunder climbed out of a seven-point hole with a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter but were held without a point over the final 2 1/2 minutes.
Gasol crashed to the rim at the right block and tipped in Bryant’s shot, then pumped both fists in celebration.
The top-seeded Lakers face a quick turnaround before facing fifth-seeded Utah in Game 1 of the second round on Sunday in Los Angeles.
“It’s just sweet to win a ball game no matter what and to be able to close these guys out that were playing really, really well against us,” Gasol said.
Kevin Durant(notes) led the Thunder with 26 points on a dreadful 5 for 23 shooting night. Westbrook had 21 points and nine assists. The two combined to score every point in the rally that put Oklahoma City up 94-91 but then couldn’t close out the game.
“I’m a competitor. I want to win every game I play,” Durant said. “I want to be a champion, and stuff like this hurts. I work so hard, we work so hard as a group, that I think that every time we step on the floor we should win.”
It nearly happened.
After missing 17 of his first 20 shots, Durant broke through with a 3-pointer from the right wing that ignited the Thunder. Westbrook followed with a jumper, and his three-point play off a putback of his own miss put Oklahoma City ahead 92-91 with 3:04 to play.
Durant added a driving layup, and Bryant answered with an 18-foot jumper from the left side to make it 94-93 with 2:12 left. It then took Los Angeles five chances to deliver the knockout punch.
“It was tough to get a bucket because both defenses were just playing super hard and giving it all out there,” said Gasol, who was scoreless in the second half before the tip-in. “The last shot, I kept battling, kept hustling. I didn’t have a good second half, I didn’t have my best shooting night but I continued to work and continued to be effective rebounding and just keeping balls alive.
“Luckily, I pursued that ball and put it in and we won the ballgame.”
Bryant scored 32 points, Gasol had nine points and 18 rebounds and the Lakers’ reserves outscored Oklahoma City’s 30-16.
“Everyone expected us to be this greatest team since sliced bread, but we aren’t playing like that,” said Ron Artest(notes), who was assigned to defend Durant throughout the series. “It’s great for us to get through it and understand that we’re not the best thing since sliced bread. We actually have to work.”
The extended series took its toll on a Los Angeles squad that already was nursing more than its fair share of injuries. Andrew Bynum(notes) played the second half with a brace on his right knee after he hyperextended it earlier in the game. Lamar Odom(notes) had a brace on his right knee, too. Artest sported a modified T-shirt with padding on his left shoulder that’s gotten a workout against Durant, the youngest player to win the NBA scoring title.
Bryant has a sore knee, ankle and index finger. Bynum just got back from a strained Achilles’ tendon that cost him the final 13 games of the regular season.
But less than 40 hours after finishing off the Thunder, the Lakers were due to start the second round back at home.
“We’ll be ready,” Bryant said.
NOTES: Phil Jackson came up with an unexpected answer when asked why visiting teams are generally more vulnerable. “You have to remember these men are out there in their underwear, in their shorts. These aren’t like the old days but they are pretty scantily clad, and they are, you know, in front of their fans. If you’re at all self-conscious, there you are.” He also noted bench players typically perform better at home. … Durant said he’s noticed an uptick in children who come to his door looking for autographs since the playoffs started—and he’s all for it. “If I was a little kid and I knew an NBA player lived down the street, I’d do the same thing. Hopefully, they continue to come because I like things like that.” … Among those in attendance were Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Barry Switzer, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims and Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Bart Conner.