Lakers Show No Rust, Win Convincingly
With both teams rested for the better part of a week, the Los Angeles Lakers had little trouble re-acclimating themselves, defeating the Phoenix Suns with thorough efficiency, 128-107 at Staples Center to take a 1-0 lead in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 40-points on 12-23 from the field and 3-6 from behind the arc. He also made 11-12 free throws while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists. The Lakers as a whole, shot an astounding 58% from the field, connected on 8-17 3-pointers for 47.1% and converted 18-22 free throws for 81.8%. They dominated the Suns inside, with a 56-36 points-in-the-paint advantage to go along with a 42-34 rebound edge. Amar’e Stoudemire (23 points on 8-13, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 teal, 1 blocked shot) and Jason Richardson (15 points on 6-12, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) got the Suns on the board first, as they sprinted out to a 7-0 lead minutes into the contest. The Lakers looked confused in their defensive assignments as players ended up in mismatches as the Suns exploited their initial confusion.
Steve Nash (13 points on 5-10, 13 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers) found open teammates on the pick-and-roll as Phoenix looked to be in control of the tempo and their game plan. And Robin Lopez (14 points on 6-7, 6 rebounds, 1 blocked shot) was the recipient early as he caught Andrew Bynum (4 points on 2-4, 4 rebounds in 19-minutes) caught in no-where’s land. But the Lakers survived the Suns initial good start and began pounding away inside. Pau Gasol (21 points on 10-13, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) started getting good looks at the basket as the Lakers began to regain the momentum. Ron Artest’s (14 points on 6-14, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot) 3-pointer narrowed the lead to 13-11. The teams traded baskets and then J-Rich hit his second trey of the period for a 20-15 Suns advantage. Kobe would register his first points of the game with a pair of free throws at the 5:30 mark. Stoudemire connected on a 15-footer for a 22-17 advantage which would for all intensive purposes, be the last time Phoenix would enjoy the lead.
With Lamar Odom (19 points on 9-15, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) checking in for Bynum, LO immediately went on a tear. First, he would score around Channing Frye (3 points on 1-8, 1 rebound, 1 steal) deep in the paint to make it 22-19. He followed that up with a quick 3-pointer to knot the score at 22-all. Stoudemire would convert 1-2 free throws for the temporary 23-22 lead, then Odom would score on a tip-in of his own miss off a beautiful feed from Kobe to put the Lakers ahead for the first time at 24-23. Kobe then got Jared Dudley (5 points on 1-5, 4 rebounds, 1 steal) to commit his second foul within 12-seconds of one another. His two free throws plus a Gasol turnaround made it 28-23. Kobe connected on a 7-footer then spiked a 3-pointer and suddenly the Lakers had surged ahead 33-23. The Lakers used an 18-4 run to close out the 1st quarter for a 35-26 advantage capped by a baseline, fadeaway by Kobe as the period came to a close. The Lakers shot 61.9% from the field while holding the Suns to a respectable 47.6%.
The 2nd quarter was hotly contested as both squads showed little rust from the long layoff. Goran Dragic (13 points on 5-8, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) found the range early as he was able to connect on a 17-footer. Leandro Barbosa (11 points on 5-7, 2 assists) scored on a 3-point play bringing the Suns to within 41-35. But with Lamar controlling the backboards by grabbing every rebound in sight, the Lakers were able to sustain the Suns mini-outburst. Jordan Farmar (10 points on 4-6, 5 assists, 1 steal) would nail a 3-pointer to kick the lead back up to ten. The Suns would claw their way to within 54-49 but Kobe’s jumper would put an end to the threat. Josh Powell would slam home an offensive rebound to give the Lakers a commanding 62-53 lead with :04 seconds remaining in the half. Grant Hill (7 points on 1-5, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal) would convert 2-3 free throws off a silly Sasha Vujacic foul that sent the teams to the locker rooms with the Lakers holding a 62-55 lead. The Lakers wound up shooting 61% with the Suns heating up to 50%. Phoenix was able to stay in the contest behind 14-19 free throws compared to only 8-10 by the Lakers. Amar’e led the Suns with 15-points to go along with 3-rebounds. Lamar led the Lakers with 15-points himself to go along with 8-rebounds. Kobe added 14-points while the Lakers outscored the Suns with points-in-the-paint, 30-16.
If there were any doubts about the final outcome, Kobe silenced them all in the 3rd period. He scored 21 of the team’s 31 points in the quarter, single-handedly putting the Suns away. His first basket came on a difficult turnaround from the just above the free throw line, beating the shot clock as the ball found its mark. Lopez would roll to the basket for a couple of scores, but Kobe would answer with a beautiful 5-foot scoop shot. Nash would be forced into a turnover and Kobe would make the Suns pay, draining a 3-pointer for a 71-59 lead. The Suns would battle back behind baskets by Nash, Richardson and Stoudemire, but the Lakers were able to keep them at bay with timely scores by Gasol and Artest. The Lakers would go on a 11-2 run with Kobe and Pau accounting for all of the points. The lead reached 91-72 with 2:45 remaining in the quarter. Nash and Richardson would put a dent into the double-digit lead at 91-79 but Kobe’s two free throws at the end of the period pushed the lead back up to 93-79.
Normally, Phil likes to sit Kobe to start the final period, but tonight he kept him in the game to put this contest out of reach. And he didn’t disappoint. After a Barbosa score, Shannon Brown’s (9 points on 3-6, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal) 3-point play made it 96-81. Kobe’s 3-pointer extended the lead to 99-79. Then LO’s goal-tended layup after corralling two of his own misses, pushed them over the century-mark at 101-83 with 10:00 still on the clock. Kobe would score again on another perimeter jumper, and then Pau would convert his own 3-point play for a 106-87 lead. Shannon almost connected on the play of the game as he took off just inside the free throw line as if on a trampoline, soared over J-Rich and continued going up, barely missing the jam after drawing the blocking foul. The Staples Center was breathless as even his teammates on the bench were left with their mouths agape. His 1-2 free throws gave the Lakers a 20-point lead. Farmar and Brown would connect on consecutive 3-point bombs for a 113-87 lead as Alvin Gentry didn’t even bother sending in his regulars the rest of the way. The Lakers finished off the Suns in typical Los Angeles fashion, beating them at their own game by shooting the lights out. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday night in what is quickly turning into a pivotal game for the Suns.