The Los Angeles Lakers, winners of 16 NBA Championships, have provided fans with many memorable playoff moments over the course of its storied history. The Lakers’ 16 titles, good for second-most in league history, place the team on a pedestal that almost every other team attempts to emulate. Over the course of these championship runs, the Lakers have battled with some of the greatest players and best teams in NBA history.
This new series revisits some of these classic series, which were agonizing for fans at the time, and uplifting as a result of the outcome. What better way to start, than to revisit a crucial series from the Lakers last championship run, when they faced off with a young upstart team with aspirations of shocking the world.
2010 Western Conference First Round: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Result: Lakers defeat Thunder 4-2
The Lakers limped into the 2010 NBA Playoffs as a wounded champion, with little certainty as to what type of effort they would be able to put forth in the postseason. The Western Conference was deep, with all eight postseason teams winning 50 games or more. The Lakers matched up with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a young, athletic and exciting team that was just two seasons removed from playing in Seattle. Led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, the Thunder had all the reason in the world to just be happy making the playoffs. After all, the Thunder were facing the defending champions, and with vey little playoff experience of their own, almost everyone expected the Lakers to regain their form and finish-off the young team quickly.
Durant and Westbrook however, aspired for more than just a playoff berth, challenging the Lakers from the outset. Injuries had stalled the Lakers early success, as the team finished the season with a flurry of injuries, including to superstar Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. Bynum returned in Game One, scoring several early baskets to break the Thunder’s interior defense, led by young stalwart Serge Ibaka. Bryant also regained his form, scoring 39 points in Game Two, which the Lakers needed every point of, narrowly winning by just three points.
The scene switched to Oklahoma City, but the Lakers came out sharp in Game Three. Looking for a knockout punch that never came, the Lakers faltered late, and the Thunder used the momentum in the form of a raucous crowd to win their first game of the series.
Game Four was the worst game of the entire playoffs for the Lakers, as the Thunder blew them out of the gym, winning by 21 points. A shocking defeat for the champions, the Lakers faced several questions as to whether they could match the level of intensity and effort of the Thunder on each and every possession. With their integrity questioned, the Lakers responded as champions, winning Game Five in a decisive blowout.
The stage was set for an All-Time classic Game Six closeout in Oklahoma City. The two teams battled back and forth, with Bryant scoring 32 points, keeping the Lakers afloat during every wild run Durant and Westbrook led the Thunder on. The game came down to the final possession, as Bryant dribbled out the clock. After blowing a late lead, the Lakers still had the chance to win the game and the series. Bryant drove right, but his shot missed off the back of the rim. Simultaneously, Pau Gasol positioned himself perfectly for the rebound and put-back attempt. With less than a second left, Gasol gave the Lakers a one-point lead, which held up as the final margin of victory. The Lakers had won a series in which they were tested in every single phase of the game.
The Lakers did not win the series – they escaped. Afterwards, Bryant credited the Thunder and its young core, for challenging the Lakers at every turn. The attention of detail and effort on each defensive and offensive possession challenged the Lakers to come together as a team in-order to win. The Lakers did come together, and the team benefited immensely.
Including the final two games of this series, the Lakers would win eight straight games on their way to their second consecutive championship. This series served as a blessing in disguise, preparing them for the tests they’d face ahead, specifically the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. But that’s another story we’ll revisit down the road.