x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pau Gasol hits top form in time to push Lakers in to semi-finals

The Spaniard provides the determination the Lakers needed to show as Los Angeles turns away the Denver Nuggets.

On a night when Kobe Bryant, second from the right, was quiet, Pau Gasol, left, made the most noise for the Lakers, who overcame the Denver Nuggets and will now face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semi-final round.
On a night when Kobe Bryant, second from the right, was quiet, Pau Gasol, left, made the most noise for the Lakers, who overcame the Denver Nuggets and will now face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semi-final round.

 

LOS ANGELES // Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers had very different preparations in the build up to the start of their semi-final series Monday night.

The Thunder go into the game well rested having swept their series against the Dallas Mavericks, beating the defending champions 4-0.

The Lakers, however, were taken to Game 7 in their series against the Denver Nuggets.

Although the Nuggets drove them to the brink of play-off collapse, the Lakers showed they still have the tenacity to win on the biggest nights of the post-season, even when Kobe Bryant does not lead them.

Bryant scored a quiet 17 points as Pau Gasol finished with 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, four block shots in the 96-87 victory and the seven-foot Spaniard also led the Lakers in emotion to help Los Angeles avoid becoming the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead.

Monday night's game between the Lakers and Thunder will be the first time since 2010 the two franchises have met in the play-offs.

The Lakers outlasted Oklahoma City 4-2 in the first round and own a 6-2 advantage in play-off series wins against the Thunder dating back to when the team played in Seattle and were known as the SuperSonics.

But that 2010 Thunder team was younger and more inexperienced than the one the Lakers will face now, and the evidence is in the regular season matchups, which Oklahoma City won 2-1.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Scott Brooks, the Thunder coach, on NBA.com of that series three years ago. "We were 20 years old and playing the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most storied franchises in the NBA."

Kevin Durant was only in his third season in 2010 and Russell Westbrook in his second when they returned the franchise to the play-offs for the first time in four years.

The team have now reached the post-season for three successive seasons, reaching the conference finals before falling to Dallas, the eventual champions, last year. Important also is that the Thunder have won on their opponent's court.

The Thunder defeated the Lakers 100-85 in Oklahoma City on February 23 and 102-93 in Los Angeles on March 29 but later dropped a 114-106 game to the Lakers in LA nearly a month later on April 22.

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