OKLAHOMA CITY (Sports Network) – By the time the “Beat LA!” chants picked up in the fourth quarter Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder had all but accomplished what fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena were urging them to do.
The only matter in question was the final margin, and it was already clear it wouldn’t be close.
Indeed, the Thunder are headed back to the Western Conference Finals after knocking off Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in five games.
Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, Kevin Durant had 25 and the Thunder beat the Lakers, 106-90, in the semifinals clincher.
Proving what Bryant and others had said — that they were the quicker team — the Thunder survived 42 points from the Lakers star and moved on to face the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
Bryant scored 15 of his points in the third quarter, but none of his teammates had that many in the game. Pau Gasol finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Metta World Peace scored 11 and Andrew Bynum had 10 points.
“It’s kind of unfamiliar territory. I’m really not used to it,” Bryant said about being knocked out of the playoffs in the second round for the second straight year. “We want to win and win now, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always have and I’m sure we will again.”
The second-seeded Thunder needed just nine games to knock off the defending champion Mavericks and the battle-tested Lakers, but their next opponent is even hotter.
The Spurs have swept the Jazz and Clippers for an 18-game winning streak that is nearly six weeks old.
Game 1 of the conference finals is set for Sunday in San Antonio.
“Can’t wait!” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili tweeted, looking forward to the series with the Thunder.
Despite Bryant’s 15 points in the third, the Thunder ended the quarter on a 17-7 run for an 83-77 lead.
Westbrook gave them a lift — and got fans out of their seats — when he stole a pass, then banked an underhand shot in from near the foul line despite being wrapped up by Ramon Sessions on a fast break.
Westbrook turned and sprinted past the scorer’s table, pumping his fists. He made the free throw for a three-point lead and the Thunder never trailed after that.
“That was an amazing play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Obviously there was a lot of luck to that but he put himself in that position. I thought from then on we played with a lot of energy.
“We made shots tonight that you can’t defend.”
The Thunder pushed their lead to 14 while Bryant sat for the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, and it climbed to 16 soon after he checked in. LA was never closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“They did a great job of closing games. They stepped up with their physicality and we didn’t do a good job of matching it,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown.
In the first half, World Peace was whistled for a flagrant 1 foul, then a technical, after he contested a Thabo Sefolosha fast break with 31.9 seconds left in the first half.
World Peace — not long removed from his suspension for elbowing James Harden in the regular season — got a lot of ball on the play, but Sefolosha crashed to the floor.
The Lakers forward got his technical after yelling at a referee and Bryant was also whistled for a technical. The ensuing free throws — Sefolosha and Durant both made two — gave the Thunder a 54-51 lead at halftime.
“They were the better team,” said World Peace. “We’re going to keep working this summer, get better.”
There were eight lead changes and four ties in the first half and neither team led by more than six.
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