POSTED: 05:08 a.m. HST, May 22, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 05:26 a.m. HST, May 22, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY >> Ramon Sessions did the best he could to keep Russell Westbrook from making a high-flying dunk that would energize the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even with his feet flat on the ground, Westbrook found a way to get the Thunder rolling past the Los Angeles Lakers and into the Western Conference finals for the second straight year.
After Sessions committed a foul to stop him on the fast break, Westbrook flipped the ball up toward the rim and got it to go in for what would become a three-point play. Westbrook took off toward the scorer's table, pumping his fist as the home crowd celebrated.
There was no turning back after that, and Oklahoma City pulled away for a 106-90 victory in Game 5 on Monday night to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs.
"That was an amazing play," coach Scott Brooks said. "Obviously, there's a lot of luck to that. You put yourself in that position to get a little lucky there.
"I thought from that point on, we really played with great energy on the offensive end, moved the ball and made shots."
Westbrook finished with 28 points, Kevin Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds and the two All-Stars skipped their usual rest periods to power the Thunder ahead in the second half.
After Westbrook's pair of three-point plays fueled a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77.
Los Angeles never got closer than 13 after that.
"That's a tough team, man. They weren't laying down," Westbrook said. "We got a little down on ourselves and we had to come together and be better teammates, and we did that."
Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers and took the briefest of rest — less than 2 minutes — in the second half. It didn't even take that long for the game, and their season, to slip away.
Bryant was waiting to check in when Durant connected on his second 3-pointer, just 89 seconds into the fourth quarter. But by the time he got in, there was little he could do — despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career.
After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year.
The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle's only NBA title in 1979.
Once there, they'll face top-seeded San Antonio, which is riding an 18-game winning streak and is the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years. The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio.
Los Angeles has followed back-to-back championships with two straight second-round exits.
"I'm not fading into the shadows," said Bryant, a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers. "I'm not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere."
Certainly, not this offseason.
Westbrook made sure of that when he went running to the scorer's table and pumped his fist in the air after his energizing three-point play.
"I just tried to throw it to the rim and luckily it went in. That kind of sparked us, and everybody else kept it going from there," Westbrook said.
Westbrook converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Durant extended the lead with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later — just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer's table to check in after a brief rest.
Bryant described it as "tough, to say the least."
After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive — much as he had with Gasol and Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver.
Gasol then came through with a monster game — 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists — and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn't get nearly as much help against the Thunder.
Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10.
James Harden added 17 points as Oklahoma City's bench outscored L.A.'s 35-5. The Thunder also had a 30-6 edge in fast-break scoring. The Lakers were outrebounded 51-35 and had only three offensive rebounds, two from Gasol and none from Bynum.
"We're asking our bigs to do a lot, but I know for sure we could have gotten more scoring from those two guys in the offensive rebounding category ... and we could have gotten more from our bench," Lakers coach Mike Brown said.
Bryant had to create all of the offense early, scoring 15 of the Lakers' first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum's three-point play.
Oklahoma City scored the next eight points, including Harden's fast-break dunk, before Bryant got past him for a pair of dunks of his own — the first a driving, two-handed reverse jam and the second a two-handed alley-oop slam over Harden.
But Bryant and World Peace both drew technical fouls as the Lakers lost their cool with 31.9 seconds left before halftime when World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Thabo Sefolosha on a fast break. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but then shoved him out of bounds with his left hand.
Sefolosha hit both free throws and Durant capitalized on both shots from the technicals World Peace and Bryant got for arguing the flagrant call to put the Thunder 54-51 ahead at halftime despite shooting less than 40 percent.
Notes: The Lakers had baskets just after the buzzer at the end of the second and third quarters that both got reviewed on instant replay. ... Westbrook got a technical foul for cursing at an official after a no-call midway through the first quarter. ... The Thunder's Nick Collison needed stitches to close a cut on the back of his head that he sustained during Game 4. ... Los Angeles is 10-3 when Bryant scores 40 points in the playoffs, losing both times he did it this season.