1. A Clear Case Of Too Much Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- By the end of the night, which wound up being the end of the series, the results seemed inevitable.
There was only so long before the Oklahoma City Thunder would have their moment, their time to grab the throttle and crank it to a speed the Los Angeles Lakers couldn't match.
"We had the game under control, but this team is extremely explosive," Kobe Bryant said, feeling the need to repeat that last part in case anyone missed his point: "Just extremely explosive."
For all of the salary-cap management and metric analysis that went into the construction of the Thunder's roster, it's that unquantifiable asset, that explosiveness, that has this team apart from the Mavericks and Lakers. Those older teams can manage; this one can detonate.
There's no explosiveness in the Lakers' lineup. Even Bryant's scoring outbursts are mostly methodical, a combination of footwork, angles, court sense and pump fakes. He had everything going in Game 5, but there was no one in purple similarly up to the challenge, leaving him feeling, as he put it, "like Rambo."
Then Westbrook banked in a scoop shoot on a continuation that even the Thunder's side had to deem lucky, Chesapeake Energy Arena exploded, and the Thunder wound up scoring 13 of the final 20 points of the quarter.
Speed was beating size. Then youth beat age. Thunder coach Scott Brooks left Westbrook and (in a departure from the norm) Durant in the game to start the fourth quarter, while Lakers coach Mike Brown sat Kobe.
It was a standard rest period for Bryant, something he didn't object to when asked about it afterward. For Brooks, having those younger legs at his disposal allowed him to break from his typical substitution pattern.
It left the Lakers with no way to counter when the Thunder hit them with their combo of a James Harden jumper, a Durant 3-pointer off a pass from Westbrook and then another Durant 3-pointer. Oklahoma City's lead went from six points to 14 in 90 seconds. Brown was forced to sub in Bryant earlier than he wanted. The game was beyond reach. The Thunder would win 106-90 and move on to the Western Conference finals. A combined 53 points for Westbrook and Durant, pulling away from the 42 put up by Bryant.
The Thunder were beyond the Lakers' grasp all season. They were deeper and faster, qualities reflected in a 35-5 advantage in bench points and 30-6 edge in fast-break points Monday night. At the end of games the Thunder seemed fresher, less prone to making mistakes, less likely to leave their shots on the front side of the rim. The Thunder took four of the five fourth quarters in this series, by an aggregate score of 137-99.
The brevity of this series might be surprising, but certainly not the outcome. You could argue that the power shift had already taken place last season, when the Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals and at least took a game against the Dallas Mavericks, who swept the Lakers in the second round. But we're a society that believes in a direct transfer of power, so here it was, spelled out over the course of five head-to-head games.
At least the Thunder went over to shake the Lakers' hands (yes, even Harden and Metta World Peace), and Bryant insisted there was one other way this wasn't like the most notorious NBA regime change of the past three decades.
"This is not one of those things like where the Bulls beat the Pistons and the Pistons disappeared forever," Bryant said. "I'm not going for that s---."
But to avoid going the way of the Bad Boys, the Lakers surely have to make changes.
There will be calls for Mike Brown's head in Lakerland, although it should be noted he managed to win one more playoff game than Phil Jackson did in his last season on the sideline, and did so with a minimal amount of practice time to instruct his players on his system in this truncated season.
There will be more calls to trade Pau Gasol, something the Lakers tried to do last offseason. The front office never completely pulled away from its efforts to move him, even when Bryant called on them to cut it out.
The record should show that Gasol went down with a fight, grabbing 16 rebounds (including the only two offensive rebounds among the Lakers starters), and doing enough to escape Bryant's postgame criticism (if not his on-court curses).
Andrew Bynum was the Lakers big man who seemed listless, coming up with only 10 points and four rebounds in 35 foul-plagued minutes. His lack of effort was apparent on back-to-back plays when first Kendrick Perkins and then Westbrook beat him to rebounds … not to mention the countless times he didn't fulfill Brown's desire to crowd the Thunder scorers as they came off screens.
The Thunder called Perkins' defense on Bynum the untold story of this series. Bynum's 16.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 43 percent shooting were all below his season averages. And Perkins did so while battling a hip injury.
Perkins is the odd fit on this team, slower and less durable. But he gives the Thunder balance, a traditional big presence to go with their perimeter-oriented offense.
His body will be served well by the five days before the next series begins ("Man, who you telling?!" he said), but Perkins added that the Thunder will have to use the time "to get mentally right for the Spurs."
There won't be enough time to close the experience gap; the Thunder's core trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden has played 96 career playoff games, compared to 460 for the Spurs' Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
But the Thunder love the fact that their youngsters have compiled so many postseason memories before age 25.
And for the second consecutive year, they're going deeper into the playoffs than the Lakers.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Though Kevin Durant was brilliant and more efficient, let's throw this honor to Russell Westbrook, whose incandescent third quarter spurred the rally that ultimately buried the Lakers.
X factor: Andrew Bynum had a strong start to the game, but found himself in foul trouble and ended up with 10 points and four rebounds in what looked like a lackadaisical effort. A dialed-in Kobe netted 42 points.
That was … exciting: The Thunder played an immaculate second half, with all three of their key perimeter playmakers showing up. They gave NBA fans every reason to believe the Western Conference finals against the juggernaut Spurs will be a special series.
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Rajon Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists in the game, but shredded the Sixers' defense in the second half. His seven assists in the third quarter alone helped spark a 22-9 run.
Defining moment: Brandon Bass went crazy in the third quarter, scoring 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting. He consistently got behind the Sixers' interior and Rondo found him for dunks. That scoring explosion helped him lead all scorers with 27 points for the game.
X factor: Second-half defense. The Sixers shot the lights out in the first half with 54.8 percent shooting, but couldn't get much going in the second half. They managed just 37.1 percent from the field and turned the ball over nine times.
3. Monday's Best
Brandon Bass, Celtics: Big Baby's replacement was The Man, going for 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including a dazzling 18 points in a third quarter that saw the Celtics seize control of a Game 5 win over the Sixers.
4. Monday's Worst
Last gasp for Lakers: If Kobe's scoring 42 while second and third options are found wanting, then it probably signals that this team might be headed toward having more in common with the 2006 Lakers than those of recent championship vintage. Interesting to see whether the franchise will rise up again in the competitive West while Kobe is still in his centerpiece years.
5. Quote Of The Night
"I'm not fading into the shadows. I'm not going anywhere."
-- Kobe Bryant, after his team's Game 5 elimination at the hands of the Thunder.