The Los Angeles Lakers are going home early for the second straight year, as the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled to a 106-90 win and clinched the NBA’s Western Conference semi-final in five games. The Lakers have lost in the second round two straight years, and gone 1-8 in those games. The Thunder are in the conference finals for the second consecutive year. Can anyone spell “Changing Of The Guard In The West?” In the meantime, the Boston Celtics showed they aren’t quite ready for a Changing Of The Guard In The Atlantic Half Of The East—at least not yet. The Celtics put together a strong second half and beat the Philadelphia 76ers 101-85 and took a 3-2 series lead. TheSportsNotebook recaps both games and looks ahead to tonight…
Oklahoma City 106 LA Lakers 90: Maybe Kobe Bryant knew what he was doing when he called out Pau Gasol in the media after the Lakers’ Game 4 loss, because Gasol was considerably more aggressive on the glass, getting 16 rebounds to go with his 14 points. But it seems like having to motivate big men is a double chore in Hollywood, because Andrew Bynum had only four boards. Oklahoma City won the rebounding battle 51-35, a positively stunning stat when you figure that even just staying close on the boards is enough for the Thunder to win. Kobe hung 42 points on 18-of-33 shooting, but when one key player is shut down to the degree Bynum was, it spells blowout. And with Kendrick Perkins crashing the glass to the tune of 11 rebounds, in support of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for 53 points and Durant himself getting ten boards, this one was opened up in the fourth quarter.
Boston 101 Philadelphia 85: After blowing a lead in Game 4 and trailing at halftime on their home floor and the crowd getting anxious, the Celtics turned to their forward to get things turned around, repeatedly getting him the ball in good spots, helping him to get to the line and turning the tide of the game late in the third quarter. But the forward wasn’t Paul Pierce. It wasn’t Kevin Garnett (yes, I know he’s officially the center, but he still plays like a power forward). The hero in Boston last night was Brandon Bass, who scored 27 points, including 9-of-10 from the foul line. The latter was the big edge the Celtics enjoyed, with a 26-10 scoring edge at the charity stripe. Garnett added 20 points, while Pierce scored 16 and Boston survived a strong night from Philly’s Elton Brand, who scored 19, and Evan Turner, who chased down 10 rebounds in the backcourt.
The East’s other Game 5 goes tonight, with Indiana down in Miami. I’m going to go blue in the face repeating the fact the Pacers have to look inside and find Roy Hibbert and David West, each of whom can score all night if they just get the ball on the blocks. And the Heat have got to find a third scorer to help LeBron and Wade, at least during the first three quarters. The best analogy was used at the blog Stat Intelligence by Jeff Fogle, who said asking the two stars to do what they did on Sunday is like the Phillies’ relying on Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to throw a shutout each game. Sure, they’re great and they’ll do it more often than most anyone else. But is that a realistic plan to win a championship? So by all means, ask the questions about whether LeBron should be taking shots at the end of games. But also ask if someone else could take and make a few in the first 36 minutes.