L.A. Lakers 109, Toronto 89
TORONTO, Jan. 6 (Ticker) --
The Toronto Raptors learned how big a difference Shaquille O'Neal
Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and O'Neal added 24 in a dominant all-around performance as the Lakers avenged a rare home loss with a 109-89 rout of the Raptors.
Toronto posted a three-point victory at the Staples Center on December 28, defeating a Lakers' team that was missing O'Neal. The All-Star center was on the injured list with an arthritic toe but returned Friday, just in time for the rematch.
"He was the total difference," Raptors guard Dell Curry said. "You have to key your defense around Shaq. He's pretty much unstoppable, and everybody on that team feeds off of him."
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Kobe Bryant takes a jumper over Vince Carter in Toronto.
"They beat us on our home court without Shaquille; we were definitely looking forward to coming up here to play," Lakers forward Samaki Walker
The Raptors dominated the early stages and had a 38-29 lead with 7:15 left in the second quarter before Bryant and O'Neal took over, combining for 13 points during a 24-6 run. Devean George sparked it with an 18-foot jumper and Mitch Richmond sank a 3-pointer.
"After a lethargic first quarter, we played good basketball," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Shaq and Kobe were a very effective 1-2 punch. We were very determined to take the ball to the basket."
After a short jumper by O'Neal, Lindsey Hunter put the Lakers ahead for good, 39-38, on a three-point play with 5:19 left in the first half. Bryant scored eight of the next 12 points for Los Angeles and George capped the burst with a pair of free throws to give the Lakers a 53-44 advantage.
Bryant scored 11 points in the second quarter and 14 in the third. He made 12-of-20 shots to go with seven rebounds and four steals.
O'Neal collected six rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
The Raptors climbed within 60-55 early in the third period before Walker scored four of his 13 points during a 10-2 spurt. Bryant netted the last 14 points in the third for Los Angeles, which took a 84-72 lead into the final 12 minutes.
"We picked it up in the third quarter defensively," O'Neal said. "We forced them into a lot of fadeaway jumpers. We boxed out a little more and kept everyone involved. Kobe got hot and that was that."
"I found a rhythm," Bryant added. "I was waiting for the right time to be more assertive."
The Lakers led by double digits the entire fourth quarter and had their largest advantage, 107-85, with 2:19 left.
Walker grabbed 10 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double for Los Angeles, which shot 53 percent (42-of-79) en route to its fourth straight victory.
Vince Carter scored 24 points and Antonio Davis had 12 for the Raptors, who failed in a bid for their first season sweep of the Lakers.
Tracy Murray added 13 points off the bench and Eric Montross posted season highs of 10 points and eight rebounds for Toronto, which was outscored, 52-28, in the paint.
The Raptors started the game with a 23-14 run, highlighted by nine points from Carter and six from Davis. They had a 28-19 lead after the first quarter but relinquished it after making just 9-of-23 shots in the second.
"We did play well in the first quarter, but the calls didn't go our way and we dropped our heads," Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens said.
"They got a nice jump early and the crowd was into it," Walker said. "But we kept it close and we knew we could wear them down."