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Lakers grab close Game 6 victory, advance to second round

By Randy Renner,
Posted Saturday May 1, 2010 2:07AM

OKLAHOMA CITY ( exclusive) -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol scored only two points in the fourth quarter of Friday night's first round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder but they were the last two points of the game.

With the Lakers trailing by one and another sellout Ford Center crowd roaring like a jet engine, Gasol grabbed a Kobe Bryant miss and put the Lakers into the second round with a putback layup.

Russell Westbrook's desperation heave at the buzzer clanged off the rim and the Lakers survived a furious OKC rally to win 95-94.

"I'm just glad I gave us a chance to win," Gasol told reporters after the game. "I just kept battling and hustling. I pursued that ball and put it in."

Bryant had a chance to do what he does best, close out games, but his 13-foot jumper with :01.8 left in the game missed its mark.

"I had Westbrook on me, got him in an isolation then went to my sweetspot, elevated, took the shot but it didn't go in," Bryant said. "Pau saved the game for us."

The Lakers and Thunder battled through a game that featured nine ties and 15 lead changes but the Lakers seemed to have seized control going up 91-84 with 5:09 to go after a Ron Artest 17-footer.

But Oklahoma City went on a 10-0 run started by a 3-pointer from Kevin Durant. The Thunder took the lead at 94-91 on Durant's driving layup and the juiced up Ford Center crowd shook the building.

Bryant answered 19 seconds later with a jumper for his 31st and 32nd points of the game. Bryant would get no more though as both team's defenses locked down.

Neither team could score for almost two minutes. Oklahoma City missed its last five shots of the game and the Lakers missed four in a row until Gasol put back Bryant's miss.

"Tonight Kobe's last shot didn't go in but Pau was there," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "We didn't play consistent. We had runs, we had spurts, it was a lack of focus. But credit should go to our opponent. They made a great run at the end they were very tenacious."

"I'm proud of our guys," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, "They left everything they had out on the floor. They have nothing to be ashamed of."

The Thunder were the surprise team of the NBA going from just 23 wins last season to 50 and a spot in the playoffs. Brooks was named the league's Coach of the Year but all those accomplishments paled in the light of a heartbreaking loss to the defending champions.

"Our guys are very emotional in the locker room," Brooks said, "Our home court is a very special place and we almost pulled out another win."

The Ford Center crowd stood for several minutes after the game cheering as members of both teams hugged and then walked slowly off the floor.

Bryant led all scorers with 32 points, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown each finished with 11. Pau Gasol, who dropped in the game winner, scored just nine points but he pulled down a game-high 18 rebounds.

Durant led the Thunder with 26 but he had a miserable shooting night, going just 5-of-23.

"I left it all out there, no matter how bad I shot, I gave it my all," he said, "This loss hurts but we all gave it our all."

Westbrook finished with 21 points and nine assists, five rebounds and no turnovers. But he had a tough shooting night also, just 7-of-20.

The Thunder suffered through a bad shooting night overall (36.5 percent) while LA shot 46.8 percent and managed to make half their 3-pointers (12-of-24).

Once again Oklahoma City got off to a horrible start missing nine of their first 10 shots and Thunder star Durant finished the first quarter 0-of-6 though he did get four points at the free-throw line.

The Thunder trailed 13-4 before their offense finally started hitting shots and bringing the game back under control.

Nick Collison hit a layup with 1:32 to play in the opening quarter to give OKC its first lead of the game at 22-21. It was back and forth from there for most of the rest of the first half.

Bryant and Durant led their teams at halftime with 14 points apiece but took different routes to arrive at that total.

Bryant hit five jumpers and four free throws for his 14, Durant's shooting struggles continued as he was just 2-for-11 in the opening 24 minutes but scored nine points from the charity stripe.

Both teams played good defense and hit the boards hard. The Lakers and Thunder each had 24 rebounds but LA got the better of it when it came to shooting, hitting 45.5 percent compared to just 33.3 percent for Oklahoma City in the half.

The Lakers also connected on half their 3-pointers (5-of-10) while the Thunder struggled from long range (2-of-7).

The Lakers again got away from what had worked best for them in Game Five, going down low to Gasol and Bynum for just 11 shots, while putting up 10 3-pointers. Gasol did most of his damage on the glass grabbing half the Lakers 24 rebounds in the first half.

The Thunder will now pack up and head off for the summer but it will not be a vacation, there is much work to do.

"I told them, next season starts now," Durant said of a conversation he had with his teammates at the end of the game. "We've got to start working. I want to be a champion, stuff like this hurts but we have to go through ups and downs. I'm looking forward to coming back next year and hopefully going further."

The Lakers are going further at least to the second round where they'll play the Utah Jazz.

"No scouting report needed," said Bryant, "We're extremely familiar with each other."

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