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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will try to close out the series on OKC"s home floor Friday.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Game 5 performance could mark return of the 'old' Lakers

Posted Apr 28 2010 11:32AM

LOS ANGELES -- The everyday-ness of the Lakers is that there is no every day, no typical and orderly. So Tuesday night was just one moment. It could all come crashing down around them again Friday in the frenzy of Oklahoma's Loud City. BYO Earplugs.

But this was a very, very good moment, and that's noteworthy. Tuesday night at Staples Center was the best half of the Lakers' postseason, easily the most complete showing they have had in five postseason games and pretty far back into the regular season as well. They showed a focus they have lacked and combined it with the killer instinct they have missed. This step toward the end of the series was actually a start.

The rousing 111-87 victory -- which gives them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven first round series -- was the L.A. postseason coming-out party, the first time the Lakers played the part of nonstop aggressors, the way a defending champion should against an opponent making its playoff debut. If the Lakers can take what they did Tuesday and turn it into a real foundation for the weeks ahead, they are back in their former role as team to beat in the West.

Tuesday night could turn everything. The Thunder had the rush of consecutive victories, most recently the 110-89 decision that called out the Lakers' play and pride. But now Oklahoma City goes home needing to win Friday.

Tuesday night may have changed all those health concerns about Kobe Bryant, too. Bryant already said he was feeling better. He got Sunday off with all the Lakers and sat out practice Monday for more rest and treatment, needed days off for his aching knee and finger and ankle. And then the Lakers blew out of the gate Tuesday to lead by 16 points in the first quarter and 21 at halftime.

It was an ideal night, a win accompanied by a light workload for the recovering superstar.

Bryant played 29 minutes and left for good with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter and his team up 81-53. Now he gets two more full days and a good part of another before playing again.

Maybe the Lakers give it all back Friday in another moment of signature schizophrenia. But it is undeniable that they are, at least, in position to have things break right.

"Schedule wise, yeah," Bryant said. "We've just got to get rest, get ready, and see if we can't have a better showing in Oklahoma than we did the last time."

Kobe scored only 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting, along with seven assists, but he set the tone in the first quarter with his defense on Russell Westbrook, a change of assignments for the Lakers. It was the perfect test for Bryant.

Westbrook in the first quarter: five shots, four misses, one trip to the line, two assists, three turnovers.

Score in the first quarter: Lakers 14-1 before the Thunder managed their first field goal (with 5:11 gone), Lakers 26-10 and eventually Lakers 31-16 after the 12 minutes.

"He won the game with his toughness tonight," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Bryant.

The contrast between the Lakers of the first four games and Tuesday was obvious in execution and approach. This was what they have been capable of all along -- not wasting early leads, holding the Thunder to 26.2 percent shooting in the first half, getting the ball inside to capitalize on a size advantage they too often gave away, forcing the desired tempo. Oklahoma City went from 24 fast-break points in Game 4 to seven Tuesday and from leading by as many as 29 points to not leading once.

"First off, their crowd was a lot better than they were the first games here," Kevin Durant said. "That brought them energy, just like our crowd brought us energy in Oklahoma City. They fed off that. They got some easy looks early on, and that got their whole team excited, from the bench on up to the first guy. They just kind of cruised from there. It was tough to fight back. Once we tried to, we didn't have any more energy left."

That's how good of a moment it was for the Lakers, so impressive that the Thunder, the team with an unlimited energy supply, didn't have any left. So good that moving closer to an ending may become a beginning.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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