Los Angeles All is well again in La-La Land. The real Los Angeles Lakers showed up, and in a Game 7, no less.
With Pau Gasol dominating on both ends of the court, the Lakers emphatically silenced the doubters and the Houston Rockets, winning the decisive final game of the Western Conference semifinals, 89-70, on Sunday.
Playing with emotion, Gasol scored 21 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. The Lakers looked like the conference’s top-seeded team, not the maddeningly inconsistent one that was pushed to the limit by the undermanned, smaller Rockets.
Trying to reach the NBA finals for the second straight year, the Lakers host the opener of the conference finals against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
The Lakers have been so up and down in this series that coach Phil Jackson said before Game 5 that they had a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde in them. That was the night the Lakers raced to a 40-point win at home, only to follow it up two nights later with a 15-point loss, the second straight game they were blind-sided in Houston.
There are any number of theories as to why the Lakers have had a split personality.
Asked what the Lakers learned from this series, Kobe Bryant cracked: “That we’re bipolar.”
Added Lamar Odom: “To make it interesting. It’s Hollywood, you know.”
It turns out that home-court advantage and a smothering defense were all it took to jump-start the Lakers, who made sure they didn’t choke this one away against the No. 5 seed.
The Lakers dominated the paint on both ends, forcing the Rockets into turnovers and bad shots. They owned the backboards, taking a 55-33 advantage, and blocked 10 shots. They had an 8-0 lead a few minutes in and widened it to 25 points on Gasol’s jump hook shortly before halftime.
After the game, Bryant patted Gasol on the shoulder and offered words of congratulations.
“I was just proud of the way he played,” Bryant said. “He answered the challenge, and he played like one of the best players in the world. I was just excited for him.”
Gasol kept Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks from penetrating, as he did often in this series. The Spaniard had 12 defensive rebounds and swatted away three shots.