This Time, Lakers Don't Get Caught With Guards Down

Kobe Bryant's first shot of Game 2 came a little less than a minute into the first quarter.

It didn't exactly occur within the flow of the offense. It was early in the shot clock. But he was open, at the top of the key, so he pulled up and fired away.

This wasn't only a jumper. This was a message to the Philadelphia 76ers.

"I'm coming," Bryant said.

He swished that shot. And he kept coming, pulling up for jump shots, spinning for floaters in the lane, flying for over-the-head dunks.

He made five of his nine shots in the first quarter and 11 of the 23 he took in the game, and his 31 points were the most scored by anybody in the Lakers' 98-89 victory at Staples Center.

The Lakers' starting guards had some explaining to do after Allen Iverson outscored them 48-15 to lead the 76ers to a victory in Game 1.

Friday night followed a different course. The backcourt of Bryant and Derek Fisher--with a cameo appearance by Ron Harper--provided what little Shaquille O'Neal left over in his dominant all-around performance.

As Bryant's jumper indicated, they declared early on that things would be different Friday night

After three minutes Fisher had two points and Bryant had two free throws, which was more than either could say after Game 1.

Bryant had scored only 15 points on seven-for-22 shooting that evening. Fisher went 0 for 4. But Bryant had 16 by halftime of Game 2 and Fisher made the biggest shot of the game: a three-pointer that enabled the Lakers to breathe again after the relentless 76ers had grabbed them by the esophagus.

Fisher did not have the best shooting night (five of 11), but he did score 14 timely points and his defense helped cause Iverson to shoot 10 for 29 and engage in an ongoing "discussion" with the officials.

"Derek came out and he played really hard," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. "He was aggressive, and that was good to see.

"Kobe obviously got a bit more room today. He got some rhythm in his shot and he played a better game also."

Bryant credited O'Neal's defense (including eight blocked shots) for generating some fastbreaks and early offense opportunities for the Lakers. Kobe had a pair of breakaway dunks and also made some pull-up jumpers in transition--much better looks than he saw throughout Game 1.

The 76ers also double-teamed O'Neal a bit more Friday, creating those open shots for Fisher. But Fisher still missed four of his first five shots--including a three-pointer that would have brought the house down when the Lakers were making their big run.

But he stole a pass from Eric Snow on Philadelphia's next possession and streaked down for a dunk over Iverson.

"Any time you get the ball in the basket, whether it's a layup or a free throw, it helps you out," Fisher said.

He said his confidence had not been completely shaken by his Game 1 performance because he just thought back to how well he has played since he returned from foot surgery in March.

"I've had more good nights than bad nights," Fisher said. "I was able to call upon the success I've had in these playoffs and this season. "The sun's not going to come out every day--even though this is Southern California. I just wanted to come back and be solid for our team."

The dunk seemed to spark him. He made his next three-point attempt, which put the Lakers ahead by 10 at the end of the third quarter.

Then he made a huge three-pointer off a pass from O'Neal after the 76ers had closed a 13-point lead down to three with less than 2 1/2 minutes to play. If Fisher's heroics seem more in character with his performance this season, just the sight of Harper on the court at all seemed shocking.

"I didn't recognize him at first," Bryant said.

He has played sparingly this postseason, usually when the outcome is decided.

But with about five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Jackson called out, "Harp!"

Mark Madsen thought Jackson had called out his first name and started to run down to the scorer's table.

"Then [Jackson] said: 'No, no. Ron!' " Harper said. "I was like, 'Are you sure?' "

Madsen came back to the bench, Harper came in the game and the Lakers seemed to return to normal. The Lakers were behind, and their offense had stagnated, but when Harper's on the court he's as soothing as incense.

"I just started telling guys to, just, look, slow down some," Harper said.

He got the ball to O'Neal in for an inside basket. Then Bryant found Harper for a layup, helping the Lakers to enter halftime with a two-point lead.

Harper came back in the fourth quarter and Bryant went up for a jumper, then found him along the baseline. Harper's short jumper bounced in, extending the Lakers' lead to five with 1:19 to play.

At the end, Bryant and Iverson got into an exchange near halfcourt. Iverson let Bryant know the 76ers weren't going anywhere. Bryant had a message for him.

"We're here, we're the world champions and no matter how inspired your team may be, the championship has to come through the City of Los Angeles, " Bryant said.

The defense has begun. Friday night, you could say it was well-guarded.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at ja.adande@latimes.com

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