Posted May 18 2010 6:50PM
LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom's prize for playing his best playoff game in 80 tries was a plastic bag full of ice.
He left the Staples Center late Monday night with a shiny knot on the side of his head, courtesy of a Louis Amundson elbow late in Monday's blowout Game 1 win over the Phoenix Suns.
"He gave me a nice little goodbye knot," Odom said after the game, touching that bag of ice to his head. "But I'll be all right."
The Lakers can only hope to see more of the game-changing Odom that was on display in Game 1. The 19 points and 19 rebounds, a playoff career-high, came on the heels of 10 straight uneventful playoff efforts for the Lakers' sixth man.
Suns center Amar'e Stoudemire stirred the pot before practice Tuesday, insisting that he would not give Odom any credit for having a "lucky" game. Suns coach Alvin Gentry called Stoudemire's comment "ridiculous." Odom refused to take the bait as well. "Hopefully," he said, stone-faced, "I'll have another lucky one."
Odom was averaging just 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in this postseason before Monday, numbers befitting a bench player but not necessarily one of Odom's caliber.
After re-signing with the Lakers for four years and $33 million as a free agent last summer, Odom's role this season wasn't clear. The addition of his childhood friend Ron Artest meant one of them was destined for the sixth man job.
Odom started 38 games this season, due mostly to injuries to both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. His greatest value, however, has come as a matchup nightmare off the bench, the role he played to perfection against a Suns teams with a bench that was supposed to be the X-factor in this series.
Odom outplayed them on his own Monday, negating their impact by dominating the glass and making seven of nine shots during one mercurial stretch.
"He's capable of doing that as a starter," Kobe Bryant said. "You've all seen the numbers that he puts up when he starts for us. But it sends a great message to the rest of our team that he's accepted a role coming off the bench. He's had games where people have criticized him, but it's really just the amount of time that he's on the floor. For him to accept that role makes us that much better of a team, because he can have moments like this and games like this."
The way Odom played against Oklahoma City in the first round and Utah in the conference semifinals didn't inspire that kind of confidence outside of the Lakers' locker room.
Odom admitted as much after his breakout game, knowing full well that he was a shadow of himself in both of those previous series.
"I had a pretty tough first two series offensively," he said. "I just spent some time in the gym. I knew my opportunity would come, especially with them always sagging on Drew, and always sagging on Pau and Kobe as well. So I just tried to be more efficient, you know, where I shoot the ball from and how I get my shot and rebound the ball as much as possible."
In addition to finding his own game, Odom has emerged as the spokesman for the Lakers' bench brigade, a group that has been blasted for its uneven showing all season and particularly this postseason.
It was Odom that called out the bench in the Jazz series. And it was Odom that led by example against the Suns, going to work in the first quarter and providing the example needed to jumpstart the Lakers after they trailed in the early going.
"I didn't really want to wait," Odom said. "I said to myself, if I'm going to have a bad game I'm going to have a bad game going out swinging. I'm not going to wait for the game to come to me. I'm going to try to attack and if a jump shot is there, I'm going to take it."
Gentry coached Odom early in his career when they were both with the Clippers, so he wasn't surprised to see the multi-talented Odom explode the way he did.
"He was really the difference in the game," Gentry said. "He came in, and we had a nice little start, but I thought Lamar came in and really kind of changed the whole game. He dominated the boards, and I just thought he gave them that extra burst of energy to kind of get them over the hump."
It was the sort of showing that always serves to inspire guys like Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, role players on this championship team that also have to deal with critics that question their performance and impact on a regular basis.
"It's going to be someone different every night," Farmar said. "You guys in the media always seem to take notice of great performances or bad performances, but it's the overall grind of just continuing to be here and do what you do night after night. In this system and this offense, everybody's opportunities are different from night to night. It's not like any other team in the league.
"When Lamar comes off the bench, he falls into that same category. Some nights he might not seem as potent, but when Lamar is aggressive like that and attacks the glass, he creates not only for himself but for everybody on the floor. And you can't put a price tag on that."
Forget the price tag.
The Lakers don't want to put a limit on Odom.
Not with another spark needed for Game 2 Wednesday night.
"They missed a lot of shots they normally make and we expect them to come out really firing, really on," Odom said. "We have to be prepared to take their best punch, and we will be."
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.
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