For the 11th time in his storied playoff career, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points while leading the Lakers to an impressive 128-107 victory over Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The home team’s steady all-around effort on Monday at STAPLES Center also featured major contributions from Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (21 points, five assists), but it was the snarl of the 2009 Finals MVP that set the tone.
“Kobe kind of controlled the whole game,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “When he’s in the zone like he is tonight, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”
The Kobe face came out for the first time in the third quarter when he exploded for 21 points, nailing 7-of-10 field goals and six free throws to push a 62-55 halftime lead to 14 points after three (93-79). From then on, the Lakers rolled downhill with ease, scoring 24 points in the first six minutes of the fourth to put the game on ice.
“On ice” is a phrase that could have been used for Bryant’s knee leading into the contest, however, as much of the discussion revolved around fluid being drained from the guard’s right knee as he opted against practicing throughout the six days between Game 4 in Utah and Monday’s contest.
Clearly, he knew what he was doing.
“He (had) been very optimistic through the whole week,” said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. “He felt like he got exactly what he had to have, the amount of rest and the amount of shooting. He took some shooting practice out there and stayed on top of what we were trying to get done in practice. He was attentive to it and I thought involved.”
“The knee felt fine,” said Bryant, even joking that getting his knee drained simply resulted in “lost weight … a couple pounds lighter.”
Bryant made 13-of-23 shots (56.2 percent) from myriad places on the floor and sank 11-of-12 free throws (91.7 percent) to get his 40; when he wasn’t scoring, he was busy chest-bumping Odom and Gasol in a nod to their contributions, discussing defensive matchups with Ron Artest (14 points, five boards and five helpers) or clapping from the bench as Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown combined for 19 points.
Odom’s contribution stood out most from that contingent, marked on the stat sheet by his career-playoff-high 19 window cleans and on the court initially by his seven straight points midway through the first quarter that gave L.A. its first lead at 24-23.
“It sends a great message to the rest of our team that he’s accepted the role of coming off the bench,” said Bryant. “He’s had games where people have criticized him, but it’s really just the amount of time that he’s on the floor, and for him to accept that role makes us that much of a better team because he can have moments like this and have games like this.”
While Bryant’s knee, and that of Andrew Bynum – who managed only four points and four boards but clogged the paint defensively in 19 minutes – took the focus in L.A.’s layoff, the also-beat-up Odom had some fresh-looking legs.
“It was perfect,” he said of the previous week. “I got a lot of treatment, got to work on my shot and my individual game, and it was exactly what I needed.”
As a team, the Lakers made 58 percent of their shots, outrebounded Phoenix 42-34, scored 56 points in the paint to 36 from the visitors, outscored the Suns 9-4 in fast break points and turned the ball over just nine times.
All of that equaled L.A.’s seventh straight playoff win.
“Their attentiveness has been great,” said Jackson of his team. “Their focus has been very good. They’re trying to do things that we’re trying to operate. We’re taking good quality shots a lot of the time, so that helps.”
The Suns, meanwhile, managed to shoot 49.4 percent from the field despite missing some open looks, including just five makes in 22 three-point attempts against the league’s top three-point defense in L.A. Steve Nash managed 13 assists and Amar’e Stoudemire 23 points, but subs Channing Frye and Jared Dudley made just 2-of-12 combined threes.
“They missed a lot of shots that they’ve been making this entire postseason,” said Bryant. “(But) we did a good job defensively, we rotated pretty well, but we’ve got to do a much better job in Game 2 and the rest of the series.”
“I’m pretty sure the next game they’ll make (more shots),” concluded Odom. “We have to be prepared to take their best punch … and we will be.”
Game 2 is set for Wednesday night back at STAPLES Center. Until then, your numbers:
4 Fast break points for the Suns, to L.A.’s nine. Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry pointed out that the Suns aren’t so much a running team, yet the stat showed how well the Lakers got back into their half court defensive set.
11 Times Kobe Bryant has scored at least 40 points in a playoff game, spurred this time by 21 third quarter points before he sat out the game’s final 8:53 with his team up 19. He has now scored at least 30 points in six straight playoff games.
19 Rebounds for Lamar Odom, a playoff career-high, including seven on the offensive glass. Odom added 19 points and three assists in a terrific all-around game.
46 Wins without a single loss for Phil Jackson teams after winning Game 1 in a playoff series.
62.7 Combined shooting percentage for Bryant (13-of-23), Pau Gasol (10-of-13) and Odom (9-of-15), which helped the team to a 58 percent mark in L.A.’s offensive showcase.