A series that was all about Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant ended up being decided by the superstar who got lost in the shuffle.
Pau Gasol swooped in to tip in Bryant’s missed jumper with a half-second left and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers survived a late comeback by host Oklahoma City to eliminate the Thunder, 95-94, in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series Friday.
“Pau didn’t quit on the play,’’ said Bryant, who finished with 32 points. “He just kept playing. He was right there to follow it up. Obviously, he saved the game for us.’’
Gasol pumped his fists in celebration, and Los Angeles could finally exhale after Russell Westbrook missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
But not for too long.
The top-seeded Lakers have a quick turnaround. They’ll host fifth-seeded Utah in Game 1 of the Western Conference second-round series today.
The series with the Thunder took a toll on a Los Angeles squad that already was nursing more than its share of injuries — including Bryant’s sore knee, ankle, and index finger.
Andrew Bynum played the second half with a brace on his right knee after hyperextending it earlier in the game. An MRI yesterday revealed he has a small tear in the meniscus, which apparently was aggravated by his injury, leaving him questionable for the playoff opener.
Lamar Odom had a brace on his right knee, too, and Ron Artest sported a modified T-shirt with padding on his left shoulder that had a workout against Durant, the youngest player to win the NBA scoring title.
Yet they still found a way to advance.
And the Jazz are almost as familiar with the Lakers as they were with their most recent opponent. After eliminating Denver in six games, the Jazz are facing the team that has knocked them out of the past two playoffs.
“We certainly know who they are,’’ Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “You tell your team, concentrate on playing basketball and forget the other stuff.’’
The Jazz also didn’t have much time to celebrate after beating the Nuggets, 112-104, Friday night to clinch the series. Carlos Boozer had 22 points and 20 rebounds in the victory.
Utah was a little weary after outlasting the Nuggets in a game full of fouls, but happy the next flight was to Los Angeles and not back to Denver for Game 7.
The Jazz had some more good news. Forward Andrei Kirilenko, who sat out the first-round series with a strained left calf, says he hopes to return for Game 3 in Salt Lake City.