Bryant helps Lakers drown Suns in Game 1
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant dribbled toward the Lakers' bench, luring Channing Frye and Jason Richardson along with him. Bryant leaned back and launched a feather-soft jumper over Phoenix's double team, neatly beating the first-quarter buzzer.
That's about when the Suns should have noted the bright yellow brace on Bryant's right knee is the color of a caution sign.
Even with a balky knee and a litany of additional woes, Bryant still is among the most dangerous postseason scorers in NBA history — and he had no problem giving Los Angeles an early leg up in the Western Conference finals.
Bryant scored 40 points, Lamar Odom added 19 points and 19 rebounds, and the Lakers opened the series with ruthless offensive efficiency in a 128-107 victory last night.
"Just being aggressive, playing my game," Bryant said. "Got shots, took them. Got lanes to the basket, took them."
Pau Gasol had 21 points for the top-seeded Lakers, who won their seventh straight playoff game and snapped the Suns' six-game streak with a phenomenal second half, highlighted by Bryant's 21-point third quarter. He barely stepped on the Lakers' practice court during the past week to rest his ailing knee, ankle, finger and back — all minor impediments to a major talent.
"I practice so much during the season," Bryant said. "In the offseason, I work a lot. To take a week off, I'm not going to lose all the work I put in prior to that."
The defending NBA champions beat the third-seeded Suns at their own uptempo game when necessary, fluidly running the court to set up baskets for Bryant in his sixth straight 30-point game. Bryant then rested for most of the fourth quarter in the 11th 40-point game of his playoff career.
"They played great, one of the best games I've seen them play in the playoffs this season," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "Kobe kind of controlled the whole game. I thought we could have withstood the game that he had ... but when he's making his jumper like that, there's not a whole lot you can do about it."
Game 2 is tomorrow night at Staples Center.
Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points, and Steve Nash had 13 points and 13 assists for the Suns, who hadn't lost since April 24. Robin Lopez started at center and scored 14 points in his playoff debut, but Phoenix couldn't keep up with the champs' height and 58-percent shooting.
The Suns also ran into the same height problems faced by Utah and Oklahoma City earlier in the Lakers' playoff run. Los Angeles committed just nine turnovers in Game 1 — its third straight single-digit turnover game — while outrebounding the smaller Suns, 42-34.
"They're probably going to continue to be taller than us as the series goes on, so we've got to ... make everything as tough as possible," said Nash, whose injured eye didn't bother him.
After a 62-point first half for the Lakers, Bryant alternated jumpers and strong drives while Los Angeles pulled away, making a 13-2 run in the third quarter. His 13-for-23 shooting performance included three 3-pointers and 11 free throws with just one miss.
"Kobe carried a lot of the offense tonight, no doubt," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
PHOENIX 26 29 24 28—107
L.A. LAKERS 35 27 31 35—128
PHOENIX–Hill 1-5 5-6 7, Stoudemire 8-13 7-10 23, Lopez 6-7 2-2 14, Nash 5-10 3-3 13, Richardson 6-12 0-2 15, Frye 1-8 0-0 3, Dudley 1-5 2-2 5, Dragic 5-8 3-4 13, Barbosa 5-7 1-1 11, Amundson 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 39-79 24-32 107.
L.A. LAKERS–Artest 6-14 1-2 14, Gasol 10-13 1-1 21, Bynum 2-4 0-0 4, Fisher 1-3 3-4 5, Bryant 13-23 11-12 40, Odom 9-15 0-0 19, Mbenga 1-2 0-0 2, Farmar 4-6 0-0 10, Brown 3-6 2-3 9, Vujacic 0-0 0-0 0, Powell 1-1 0-0 2, Walton 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 51-88 18-22 128.
3-Point Goals—Phoenix 5-22 (Richardson 3-6, Dudley 1-5, Frye 1-7, Barbosa 0-1, Dragic 0-1, Nash 0-2), L.A. Lakers 8-17 (Bryant 3-6, Farmar 2-3, Brown 1-1, Odom 1-2, Artest 1-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Phoenix 42 (Amundson, Lopez, Richardson 6), L.A. Lakers 47 (Odom 19). Assists—Phoenix 25 (Nash 13), L.A. Lakers 26 (Bryant, Artest, Gasol, Farmar 5). Total Fouls—Phoenix 23, L.A. Lakers 21. Technicals—Hill, Bryant, L.A. Lakers defensive three second. A—18,997 (18,997).