This is the time of year when the NBA is supposed to be its most exciting. Close games. Seven-game series.
Well, after the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the Phoenix Suns in Game 2, 124-112, the league built by Magic and Bird and is thriving under Kobe and LeBron is looking at the prospect of all but one of its six series from the conference semi-finals and finals being sweeps.
It wasn’t as easy for Lakers as it was in Game 1 thanks to a lightning third quarter by Suns’ Grant Hill (14 in the period) and Jason Richardson (12) , which erased a nine-point Laker halftime lead.
But the Lakers eased out in front early in the fourth and built on their height advantage and great shooting (57.7%) to win a game that really never should have been as close.
Of course, no one expected Kobe Bryant to duplicate his 40-point performance of Monday night but he came up with some big baskets when the Lakers needed them. He finished the game with 21 points.
But where Bryant was spectacular was feeding the ball to Pau Gasol under the basket. Bryant had 13 assists in the game. But it was Gasol who had the Kobe-like scoring performance scoring 29 points on 11 of 19 shooting.
Ron Artest, known for his defense not shooting, also wasn’t too bad scoring 18 points, including three three-pointers.
Richardson was the Suns leading scorer with 27 points and Hill added 23. Steve Nash, the Suns normal go-to guy, had a second straight subpar performance scoring only 11 points.
Now, the Lakers 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading to Phoenix is not near as impressive as the Celtics 2-0 lead over the Orlando Magic heading to Boston but it’s not inconceivable that there may be some TNT and ESPN programming slots to fill in the near future.
Of course, this series is not over as both coaches are more than willing to tell anyone who will listen. And any of the 18,997 at the Staples Center who saw the Lakers give away a 14-point second period lead by the end of the third quarter would also agree.
Amare Stoudemire had raised the ante before Wednesday’s game by saying that Lamar Odom’s 19-point, 19-rebound game was “lucky.” Odom, who is becoming a very marketable player in L.A. since his marriage to Khloe Kardashian, just shrugged it off. But the comment was still resonating at gametime.
“I think lucky was not the word he wanted to use,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “But it’s fine. It’s not a big deal.
“Someone said it’s bulletin board material. Well, if you have to have someone say something to get fired up for the Western Conference finals then you’ve got something wrong.”
The attention that is being paid to Odom do in part to the bad knee of starting center Andrew Bynum, who missed the last month of the season because of problems with the knee.
The Lakers have been considered a fragile, banged-up team throughout the season. Of most concern has been the various injuries to Bryant, although six straight 30-plus point games before Wednesday seems to have erased that concern.
“I think his knee is going to be OK,” said Laker Coach Phil Jackson. “I’m a little more concerned about Andrew’s.”
But none of that really mattered in Game 2 where even though the score was close some of the time, it never really seemed as if the Suns could win it.
The Lakers took a nine-point lead into the half with Bynum showing little difficulty with his knee scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds. He finished the game with 13 points and seven rebounds.
As for Odom, he finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Now, it’s on to Phoenix on Sunday and the prospect that without any games to play the start of the NBA Finals will be moved from June 3 to June 1.
-- John Cherwa
Lakers 124, Suns 112, final
Lakers go up 2-0 in the series. Last two minutes were garbage time. Lakers found another level in the fourth quarter and made the Suns look bad.
Lakers 120, Suns 106, 1:58 remaining
This game is in the refrigerator. Gasol dominating the last 1:30.
Lakers 112, Suns 104, 3:28 remaining
Grant Hill scores thanks to some matador defense by the Lakers. Gasol is fouled hard and powers through for the two. Who says Gasol isn’t tough? Stoudemire is called for an offensive foul. Fisher ran into him on a screen and sold it well. Fisher is one smart player. And I just lost my entire TV feed. I switch TVs and, after some sloppy play, it’s 112-104 Lakers.
Lakers 106, Suns 95, 6:42 remaining in fourth quarter
Suns come out of the timeout with two quick points. Gasol is fouled and makes both free throws to push the lead back to four. Shannon Brown is fouled and makes two free throws to push the lead to six, 101-95. Does Lawler’s Law apply to Lakers games?
Barbosa goes for a layup, has his shot blocked, falls and bangs the back of his head on a camera, opening a gash on the back of his head. He is headed to the locker room to get some stitches.
Nash with a turnover and Farmar hits a three. Another turnover by Nash, Kobe fakes the entires Suns defense into the popcorn machine and puts the Lakers up by 11. Timeout Phoenix. 9-0 run by the Lakers.
Lakers 97, Suns 93, 8:52 remaining in fourth quarter
You know, close, exciting playoff games like this is when I miss Chick Hearn the most.
Jordan Farmar opens the fourth quarter with a three, steals the ball and almost throws it out of bounds. Which pretty much sums up Farmar’s season perfectly.
After a Suns miss, Gasol scores a layup after a perfect pass from Bryant. Dudley answers with a three for Phoenix. Dudley is 5-for-5 from three-point range tonight.
Another nice pass by Bryant sets up Odom for two. Bryant has 11 assists. -- Houston Mitchell
Lakers 90, Suns 90, end of third quarter
The Suns had a chance to cut the lead to two coming out of the timeout and that’s exactly what Grant Hill did. And after a turnover and Ron Artest fouled Hill and the game was tied, 86-86.
But Pau Gasol answered quickly with a bucket but Hill, who was on fire this quarter, tied the score. After a couple of misses Kobe Bryant gave the Lakers the lead but Steve Nash covered that with his own two.
The quarter ended with Bryant missing a three. But clearly, the Lakers have to figure out a way to stop Hill (14 points in the quarter) and Jason Richardson (12 in the quarter).
Lakers 86, Suns 82, 2:31 remaining in third quarter
The Lakers came out of the timeout with a six-point lead and a need for a basket to keep things comfortable. And they got the edge when Andrew Bynum was awarded a two on a goaltend.
But veteran Grant Hill answered that with an easy runner through the lane. The Lakers came back quickly with a basket by Pau Gasol and after a miss and a turnover Hill rose his aging up for an easy slam.
Kobe Bryant put the Lakers back up by eight. Bynum then committed his fourth foul but the Suns couldn’t capitalize when Amare Stoudemire missed both free throws.
Down at the other end, Ron Artest went to the line and made one of two free throws and the Lakers were up by nine. Then things got even more interesting Jason Richardson connected on a three for his 10th point of the quarter.
Gasol then answered the three with a two but Hill then connected for a two. Artest, suddenly a shooting star then made a two. But Jared Dudley hit a three and it was five point game.
Lamar Odom then came alive with a couple baskets wrapped around a Stoudamire two. The Lakers were then assessed a delay of game technical and after a Richardson break-away basket it was a four-point game.
Gasol went to the line and made two free throws but Hill answered with a bucket.
Things were getting nervous for the Lakers as they headed into a timeout with a four-point lead.
Lakers 69, Suns 63 (9:36 remaining, third quarter)
The third quarter was where Kobe Bryant lit it up for 21 points in Game 2. But he hasn’t had the shooting touch quite as strong Wednesday making four of 11 in the first half.
Still, with a nine-point lead (and, yes Ron Artest being the leading scorer in the first half with 15 points) Bryant was looking to send a message.
But first it was up to Derek Fisher to make two foul shots, which was cancelled out by a Jason Richardson two. After a couple misses Bryant hit his first points of the quarter. But Richardson followed that up with a three and a two and the lead was six. It was Richardson’s seventh point in 2 ÃÅ minutes.
-- John Cherwa
Lakers 65, Suns 56, halftime
The Lakers relied on hot shooting as five players hit three-pointers, and they withstood a second quarter push by the Suns’ bench to keep a nine-point lead at the half.
Ron Artest led the Lakers with 15 points, hitting three of his first five three-point shots at the expense of Jason Richardson.
Andrew Bynum also had a good half, getting position down low, and has 11 points and six rebounds.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry said before the game he wanted to cut the Lakers shooting percentage, but can’t be happy with the Lakers shooting 57% in the first half. The Suns shot 46%.
The Suns’ bench players accounted for the first 17 points Phoenix scored in the second quarter, as they temporarily cut into the Lakers’ early lead. Jared Dudley led their bench with nine points. Suns reserve guard Goran Dragic played eight minutes, scoring three points and getting two assists, giving Steve Nash a long break.
Amare Stoudemire leads the Suns with 11 points.
The battle inside was just about even: the Lakrs had 24 points in the paint, to 22 for Phoenix.
Lakers 47, Suns 41, 5:49 remaining, second quarter
After the timeout Phil Jackson sent Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol back into the game after the Suns bench cut the Lakers’ 12- point lead.
But the Suns bench is keeping them in the game.
Suns forward Jared Dudley has been hot, hitting his first three pointers, giving him nine points in his first nine minutes.
The Suns bench has 17 points, compared to 13 for the Lakers’ reserves.
Lakers 41, Suns 34, 8:17 remaining, second quarter
The Suns’ bench gave them a spark to cut the Lakers lead before a timeout.
Forward Leandro Barbosa hit a three-pointer, backup point guard Goran Dragic scored on an aggresive drive to the hoop Suns and forward Jared Dudley also hit a three.
Lakers 36, Suns 24, end of first quarter
Ron Artest hit a three pointer from the left wing just before the buzzer expired to give the Lakers their biggest lead of the game.
Artest had a good quarter, was active on both ends of the court, and leads the Lakers with 10 points. Kobe Bryant hit his first three pointer to extend their lead to 29-21, with about two minutes to go.
Bryant has nine points. The only starter for the Lakers who didn’t score was Derek Fisher; he missed both shots.
Steve Nash played the initiator role for the Suns, and has five assists, but did not score a field goal till late in the first quarter. Nash has four points.
The Lakers did a better job as the quarter wore on at scoring down low. They outscored the smaller Suns, 18-12, in the paint in the first quarter.
Lakers 23, Suns 16, 3:21 remaining, first quarter
Pau Gasol scored on a fastbreak dunk on a pass from Ron Artest to extend their lead to 23-16.
Artest has been active on both ends of the court and leads the Lakers with seven points.
Amare Stoudemire has been the primary scorer for the Suns, he has eight points.
The Suns have done a better job of pounding the ball down low, scoring 10 of their first 13 paints in the paint, largely thanks to Steve Nash’s dribble-drives.
But the Lakers are shooting well, with a field-goal percentage of 53%.
Lakers 21, Suns 13, 4:26 remaining, first quarter
Lamar Odom grabbed an offensive round on his first play of the game and scored on a put back to give the Lakers a four point lead before the first timeout of the game.
For the Suns, Steve Nash has been pushing the ball up the court and already has five assists.
Amare Stoudemire scored the first three buckets of the game for the Suns, all on assists from Nash. Stoudemire leads the Suns with six points.
Kobe Bryant drove by Suns center Robin Lopez for layup to tie the game at 13. Bynum got off to a good start with six points and three boards in six minutes before being replaced by Lamar Odom.
Gambling site Beted.com has trimmed their point spread slightly for Game 2, favoring the Lakers by 6 1/2 points over the Suns, down from an 8-point spread before the Lakers win in Game 1.
In his news conference before Wednesday’s game, Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said his team must reduce the Lakers’ field-goal percentage into the mid-40s; in Game 1 the Lakers shot a whopping 58% from the field. Gentry added that his team has a chance to win if they can contain the Lakers so that only two or three players have good games, but can’t win if five or six play well, as happened Monday night at Staples Center.
Meanwhile, Phil Jackson said Kobe Bryant’s knee held up well after Game 1, but that Jackson continues to be “a little concerned with Andrew [Bynum’s knee].” At halftime it’s important for Bynum to warm-up again to try and play through his tear in the knee, Jackson said.
Jackson was also asked about the prospect of Bynum’s role if the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals against, possibly Boston. “We know there will be bigger, powerful centers ahead,” Jackson said, referring to the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett.
-- Barry Stavro