RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
For the second straight year, one of the NBA's greatest players is leaving the playoff party early. Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers are out. Last night, they lost their second round series against the young and explosive Oklahoma City Thunder, four games to one. The Thunder's big three - Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden - combined for 70 points in Oklahoma City's 106-90 win. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now on the line.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.
MONTAGNE: So the Lakers, of course, are a storied franchise, but I take it this loss to the Thunder wasn't actually a surprise?
GOLDMAN: Not at all. No. The Thunder are so good. They're seven and one in this postseason, and even Kobe Bryant acknowledged after the Lakers one victory in the series, how scary Oklahoma City is on offense, how the Thunder can reel off seven or eight points in 45 seconds or a minute, you know. And that's what happens when you have so much talent and a staring lineup that averages 24 and a half years old.
But, Renee, this also wasn't a surprise because the Lakers, who were repeat NBA champions as recently as two seasons ago, they've been a discombobulated bunch. Their offense breaks down at critical times. The two big men - Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum - can be great but have played inconsistently.
The Lakers had wanted to get faster this season, but really didn't. And Oklahoma City pretty much blew by them.
MONTAGNE: Well, what does that mean? Are big changes coming to the Lakers?
GOLDMAN: There's a lot of talk about that. Bryant can still let it rip on offense. He had 42 last night, but he's on the downslide of his career. He'll be 34 next season. The big question is what to do with Gasol and Bynum. The Lakers have to get younger and faster and those two are the trade bait that can bring in the desired players.
You would assume, also, that Kobe Bryant, who measures his success in championship rings, will be pushing for change as well.
MONTAGNE: And the Thunder advance to the Western Conference finals for the second straight year now. This time against one of the NBA's most experienced and successful teams for more than a decade, and that's the San Antonio Spurs. So what's the talk about that match up?
GOLDMAN: Oh, basketball fans are salivating. The Thunder and the Spurs are the best in the NBA right now. Analysts are running out of superlatives to describe the basketball that the Spurs are playing. They've won 18 straight games, including eight in the playoffs. They have this beautiful offensive system filled with movement and cutting to the basket and passing.
And you have to give credit to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich as well. During the regular season he rested two of his best players - 36-year-old Tim Duncan and 34-year-old Manu Ginobili. So they're running around like kids right now.
And he lit a fire under point guard Tony Parker, who's having his best season. Parker played great for his native France in last summer's EuroBasket tournament. And Popovich challenged Parker to play that way for the Spurs. And he has done that with a vengeance.
MONTAGNE: And, Tom, let's turn just briefly to the Eastern Conference, and a very big game tonight between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. Now, their series is tied at two games apiece. Are you surprised that it's so close?
GOLDMAN: Well, let's just say for those who thought that crowning the Heat champions was a formality after their near miss last season, yeah, it's a surprise to them. But, you know, without big man Chris Bosh, who's been lost to injury, Miami is struggling against a talented and confident Indiana team.
It took 70 points between LeBron James and Dwayne Wade to win and tie the series two days ago. They're going to need to do something similar in order to win two of the remaining three games. And that's a tall order, even as great as they are.
MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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