Updated: April 28, 2010, 10:30 AM ET

1. What Took The Lakers So Long?

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- At the moment, after a thorough domination of the Oklahoma City Thunder that followed two days of Senate hearing-level grilling for the Lakers, the main question to ask them is ... what took so long?

Why did coach Phil Jackson wait until Game 5 to defend Russell Westbrook with Kobe Bryant and slow down the point guard who was torching the Lakers?

Why did Ron Artest choose now to show he still can make shots and even dunk on people? (More importantly, why did it take him a week to shave off that Easter egg hairdo?)

Why did the Lakers stick with the go-inside game plan for more than just a quarter, and finally adopt the defensive principles their coaches have been preaching all series?

"A sense of urgency gets you going," Pau Gasol said. "We needed to win this ballgame no matter what."

OK, so they're not self-motivators. But they have found a way to get out of whatever bind they've placed themselves in over the past two postseasons. The latest red alert in Lakerland was a dismal two-game trip to Oklahoma City that ended with a 110-89 loss in Game 4 and brought the Thunder to even footing with the Lakers.

That lasted until the Lakers knocked the Thunder backward from the outset of Game 5 and never let them off the ropes. The Lakers scored the first 10 points, led 31-16 after the opening quarter and led by as many as 32 points in the course of their 111-87 victory.

It started with Bryant on Westbrook, who had zipped through the Lakers' defense as if he had an E-ZPass strapped to his head, averaging 22 points on 55 percent shooting in the first four games. Jackson was reluctant to have Bryant defend him because "it's a much higher activity level playing the ball and having to play every play. There's no time off on defense."

Bryant made the choice for him. After a video session on Monday, Bryant said, according to Jackson: "'I'd like to take Westbrook.' I said, 'OK.'"

Westbrook shot 1-for-5 and had three turnovers in the first quarter and finished 4-for-13 with eight turnovers and six assists. As he went down, so did the Thunder.

"I enjoy the challenge," Bryant said. "He's been playing sensational. If we're going to be eliminated, then I don't want to go into the summer thinking I could have done something about it."

How crazy is it that the thought even entered his mind, that "eliminated" and "summer" and "Lakers" could be associated with "Thunder" and "first round"? If you had typed those phrases into a search engine before the series it would have returned zero hits.

But if you'd come into this series cold, knowing nothing about the history or previous experience of both teams, you would have considered the Thunder the superior squad after four games. After Game 5, you wonder why the Lakers haven't finished this thing off already, if this is what they're capable of doing.

Coming home helped. The Staples Center crowd, which Jackson called "laid-back" as he doubted it could provide the same edge as the vociferous Oklahoma City fans, responded to the moment as well as the Lakers did.

"The crowd was a lot better than it was the first two games here," Kevin Durant noted.

Another benefit from the change of venue: The Thunder didn't own a time-share at the free throw line the way they did in Game 4, when they had 48 attempts.

It was a loosely whistled game, in which a lot of contact on Thunder drives went uncalled. (The Thunder still wound up with more free throws than the Lakers in the first half, but like the Lakers in Game 4 Oklahoma City couldn't convert on the few opportunities they had. Final attempts: 31-24, Lakers).

The Lakers dominated the action, getting everyone involved in the offense, resulting in 46 combined points from Gasol and Andrew Bynum and 14 from Artest (on 6-for-11 shooting including 2 of 4 3-pointers for a man shooting 13 percent from behind the arc). They scored 58 inside points to 26 for the Thunder and blocked 10 Thunder shots.

"The paint was theirs," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose team shot 37 percent. "Both ends of the floor. They controlled the game."

Things got so twisted for the Thunder that they even ceded the advantage in fast-break points, a category they had dominated 47-9 in the previous two games.

There was only one unresolved issue for the Lakers: Can Bryant still dominate if he needs to? He was the only Lakers starter to shoot below 50 percent, missing 5 of his 9 shots. He's still having difficulty finishing at the rim. He remains a facilitator, although this time at least he shot the ball in the first quarter. His shot-less first quarter in Game 4 caused the usual Kobe Konsternation around the basketball world. He remains the game's most polarizing player, criticized when he launches shots, criticized when he doesn't shoot enough.

Jackson took a more measured approach, saying Bryant "probably overdid it a little too much" in his attempt to utilize his teammates in Game 4. "He'll have to find balance," Jackson said beforehand.

His Game 5 stat line would meet approval from the Bureau of Weights and Measures: 13 points, with more assists (seven) than field goals (four). That little anomaly isn't unheard of for Kobe; the last time it happened in the playoffs was an eight-assist, six-field goal game against Denver in the Western Conference finals last year. But it's unusual.

Jackson still wants Bryant to take more shots. Bryant says he doesn't need to.

"If I didn't have Pau, Andrew and the crew that I have, I'd score 45, 50 points and everybody would say, 'He shoots too much,'" Bryant said. "I have a great crew. I don't have to do that."

Was this bounce-back game strictly a byproduct of the extra day off between Games 4 and 5? If so, the Lakers better take advantage of another two-gap before Game 6 Friday or risk running out of gas before Game 7 Sunday.

Maybe the Lakers should thank the Thunder for forcing the Lakers to elevate their play two rounds earlier than they did last year. Sometimes it takes a team a while to figure out its opponent. And sometimes players just need to wait for the test results to figure out what's going on inside themselves.

"Tonight we understand that this is the only way it's going to work for us in order to get another championship," Gasol said.

Finally, the Lakers have demonstrated they have it. So can they sustain it?

"I know we won tonight," Bryant said. "That's it. We just move on to the next one."

And whatever that might bring.

J.A. Adande is a columnist for ESPN.com.

Dimes past: April 8 | 9-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26

2. Cavaliers Finish Off Pesky Bulls

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

James
James

CLEVELAND -- Maybe, bored with these Bulls and sick of the small fries, they were looking ahead to the Celtics. Maybe they figured Sunday's demolition had zapped Chicago of its resolve and that bringing their A-game wasn't a must. Heck, maybe they were just hanging out late Monday night, doing the "Stanky Legg" for kicks and giggles at some Cleveland hot spot.

Whatever the case, in Game 5 on Tuesday, the Cavaliers looked nothing like the world-beaters their 61-win regular season suggests they are. A bit nonchalant, a bit sloppy, and perhaps even a bit too cavalier, they made this close-out game much tougher than it had to be. But on a bad night, they had enough to get past the pesky Bulls, winning 96-94 to dismiss Chicago 4-1 in their first round-series.

Now, it's on to Boston, that roster of proud old heads who are determined to make one last run for the ring before bowing at the feet of age and attrition. The second-round series everyone wants to see begins Saturday at The Q.

"We're looking forward to it,'' LeBron James said. We knew at some point we were going to have to face this team and we're happy it's now.''

To read the entire column, click here.

3. Celtics Turn Off Heat, Ready For Cavaliers

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

Rondo
Rondo

BOSTON -- By any measure, the Boston Celtics looked pretty darn good if you sum up their five-game body of work against the Miami Heat.

Good, but not great.

And if they are going to put a scare into the Cleveland Cavaliers in the next round, the Celtics will need to perform at a sustained higher level -- a championship-caliber commodity that eluded them over the course of the first round.

With Ray Allen keeping up his torrid outside shooting and the defense finding a way to limit Dwyane Wade, the Celtics finished off the Miami Heat 96-86 Tuesday night to win their first-round series 4-1.

But did the Celtics discover enough positives about themselves that they can carry into the next round and capitalize on? Was this series a learning experience, or an exercise in shaking off the cobwebs that developed over their 27-27 finish to the regular season following their 23-5 start?

To read the entire column, click here.

4. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Tuesday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.

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