OKLAHOMA CITY, (Reuters) – Pau Gasol’s last gasp tip-in helped the Los Angeles Lakers eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder and set up a Western Conference semi-final against the Utah Jazz, who battled past the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Gasol put in a missed Kobe Bryant jumper with less than a second to play to give the defending champion Lakers a 95-94 Game Six victory and a 4-2 series triumph against a tenacious Thunder team.
Utah advanced by securing a 112-104 victory over the Denver Nuggets with a dominant Carlos Boozer leading the way with 22 points and 20 rebounds.
The best-of-seven series starts today in Los Angeles, where the Jazz have lost 14 consecutive games to the Lakers.
Bryant had 32 points for the Lakers, who survived Russell Westbrook’s missed three-pointer at the buzzer to win a tougher than expected series against the eighth seeds.
“Fortunately, Pau didn’t quit on the (winning) play,” Bryant told reporters. “He just kept playing.”
Gasol, the Lakers’ Spanish power forward, scored only nine points in the game but had 18 rebounds with the last one putting him in position to win the game.
“He had a wide lane, and we didn’t do a good job of putting a body on him,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We had four guys in there.”
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 26 points and Westbrook had 21 as Oklahoma City fought back from a seven-point fourth quarter deficit to take a 94-91 lead on 10 consecutive points.
Bryant’s jumper with two minutes to play cut the advantage to a point and after a series of missed shots by both teams, the Lakers guard grabbed a defensive rebound and launched a 13-footer with a second left, leading to Gasol’s winning tip-in.
At Salt Lake City, the Jazz went on an 11-0 run midway the fourth quarter to claim the series 4-2 despite losing starters Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur to injuries. Wesley Matthews backed up Boozer with 23 points.
Chauncey Billups led Denver with 30 points but team mate Carmelo Anthony made just six-of-22 shots to finish with 20 points.
Earlier, the Atlanta Hawks staved off elimination by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 83-69 to tie their Eastern Conference series at 3-3. Game Seven is in Atlanta today.
Jamal Crawford had 24 points and Joe Johnson 22 for the Hawks.
Milwaukee led by three at the half, but went flat in the third, scoring only 11 points, as Atlanta built a 20-point lead.