“It means we move on to the next round.”
The upstart Oklahoma City Thunder made the defending champions Lakers dig deep in order to keep their hopes of a 16th ring alive.
Phil Jackson’s squad jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first round of the 2010 Western Conference playoffs, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook managed to tie the series and bring it back to Los Angeles for Game 5.
The Lakers showed their championship DNA in routing Scott Brooks’ team by 24 points – giving them a full head of steam heading back to Oklahoma.
Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Gasol and the entirety of the fan base had seen enough of this opponent.
The Thunder would make the NBA Finals the following year behind a core that also included Serge Ibaka and James Harden, but they still gave the purple and gold one last scare on the night of April 30th.
In a game that was tied 15 times and ended up having nine lead changes, OKC was only in front briefly early in the second quarter before re-taking the lead on a Westbrook and-1 bucket with 3:03 to go in the fourth.
Durant then gave OKC its biggest lead of the game (three points) with 2:30 remaining, but Bryant responded with a quick jumper 19 seconds later.
The final 131 seconds were an absolute dog fight.
Odom blocked Nick Collison’s shot after an offensive rebound. Kobe, Westbrook, and Metta World Peace traded missed jumpers.
“Everyone expected us to be this greatest team since sliced bread, but we aren't playing like that,” MWP said.
With about 18 seconds to go, Bryant rebounded a Westbrook miss. Down by a point and with no time outs left, the Black Mamba took it upon himself to win it.
He drove right and took one of his patented baseline fadeaway J’s. The shot ended up being a little too strong, but by then the Thunder had forgotten about the Lakers’ Spanish superhero.
As everyone watched Kobe do his thing, Gasol redeemed himself by slipping the box outs and, in a single motion, grabbing the offensive board and banking it home from the right block.
“Luckily, I pursued that ball and put it in and we won the ballgame,” he said.
The Barcelona-native had been scoreless in the second-half up until that moment and finished the game with just nine points.
His 18 boards (five offensive), however, were crucial.
“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,” Gasol said.
Gasol celebrated accordingly, with both fists in the air as he was greeted by Derek Fisher and Bryant at mid-court. He even earned Stu Lantz’s classic “that was niiice” label on the replay.
It was truly a titanic effort by a Laker team that outshot the Thunder by healthy margins, but that lost the battles of points in the paint, second-chance points, and fast break points.
The Thunder went down swinging.
“I want to be a champion, and stuff like this hurts,” said Durant after the game. “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.”
A hobbled Bryant led L.A. with 32 points, but only Fisher and Shannon Brown (11 each) joined him in scoring in double figures. However, the bench outscored OKC’s 30-16.
“We said it was going to be tough, and it was a tough series,” Jackson said.
The Lakers would then sweep the Utah Jazz in the next round before battling for 13 more games against Phoenix and Boston to clinch the 16th title in franchise history.