It was Pau Gasol, not Kobe Bryant, who sent the Los Angeles Lakers to the second round of the playoffs. Gasol snuck inside in the final second and put back Bryant's missed jumper to give the Lakers a 95-94 victory over the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, concluding what turned out to be a scintillating first-round series. The Lakers move on to play the winner of the Utah-Denver series, their second step in what they hope is a return to the NBA Finals.
1. The penultimate play. With Los Angeles trailing by one in the final seconds, the Thunder made the decision to guard Kobe one-one-one with Russell Westbrook. Had Bryant made his jumper from the right side, Thunder coach Scott Brooks would have been seriously questioned about his defensive philosophy. Instead, Bryant took a fadeaway over Westbrook that was off the mark. Fortunately for Los Angeles, Gasol crept over from the left side, got inside Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison and laid the rebound back in for a lead with 0.5 seconds left. Collison had moved to the right side to block out Bryant in case Bryant followed his own shot, but it was Ibaka who failed to get a body on Gasol, allowing the Spaniard to end Oklahoma City's improbable season.
2. The Final play. Lakers guard Derek Fisher once hit a shot against San Antonio with 0.4 seconds left, so the Thunder's final play was not impossible. But the Lakers, in general, and Ron Artest, specifically, did a good job of denying Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant the ball, forcing the Thunder to feed the ball to Westbrook in the right corner. As good a game as he had, Westbrook did not get nearly as good a look at the rim at Fisher against the Spurs, though Westbrook's shot still grazed rim while Durant looked on from near midcourt.
3. Durant learning the playoffs. The league's leading scorer was not quite as bad as John Starks or Doug Christie, but he was not far removed. He missed his first five shots, eight of his first 10 and just never found a rhythm the same way he was able to score throughout the year. Durant's line is deceiving: 26 points, in part because he went to the line 15 times and made 14 free throws. But those were secondary to the missed field goals he had en masse, three more makes of which would have made this an entirely different game. When Durant was 3-for-20 from the field and the Thunder were down by only four points, you knew there was a chance they could steal the game.
4. Kobe reverts to being a scorer. After being a witness in Game 4 and a distributor in Game 5, Kobe went back to being aggressive in Game 6. He had his jaw jutted out, he had his teeth bared and he looked, frankly, scary and focused, each time he made one of his 12 field goals, en route to 32 points. The only real surprise was that Bryant, the league's best finisher with multiple game-winners this year, missed the potential game-winner with only one defender guarding him.
5. Lakers golden from the outside. More than anything else in this game, the Lakers' accuracy from three-point range proved the difference. While the Thunder made only 5-of-19 attempts from behind the arc, the Lakers were 50 percent (12 for 24), including Bryant making three of four attempts, and Fisher, an incredible postseason player, draining three triples.