L.A. Lakers 99, Phoenix 93
PHOENIX, April 26 (Ticker) --
This time, Kobe Bryant
and the Los Angeles
Lakers did more than get close.
Bryant had 29 points and 10 rebounds and the Lakers again
controlled the tempo and upset the Phoenix Suns, 99-93, to
even their Western Conference first-round series at one game
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scored 21 points and made two critical hustle plays down the stretch for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who came up just short in Game 1 but stole home-court advantage with their second straight committed effort against the second-seeded Suns.
"It's going to take a team effort to win and advance in the playoffs," Odom said. "These are games that we have to put together."
Bryant, who led the NBA in scoring at better than 35 points per game, appears clearly committed to sharing the ball, especially with low-post players. The Lakers have used size to their advantage against the smallish Suns, who never got their running game going.
"In Game 1, we did an okay job. I just didn't make shots that I normally make," said Bryant, who made just 7-of-21 shots en route to 22 points in the series opener. "Tonight everybody contributed. We are just trying to work hard on defense. We are attacking as a unit.
"In the playoffs, everybody kind of has a rhythm for the game. During the regular season, we were trying to find our rhythm and I had to shoulder the scoring load. We know we can start attacking teams as a unit and not me going out there trying to score 40 or 50 points."
Taking the lead for good at the end of the first quarter, L.A. held a 74-67 advantage entering the final period and widened it to 92-83 with 3:11 remaining as Odom dove to grab a loose ball and zipped a pass to Bryant, who sprang for a flying dunk over Steve Nash
"We had some dramatic plays down the stretch," Lakers coach Phil Jackson
said. "Kobe stayed very well inside of what we were trying to do. We kind of died on the vine a couple of times when the shot clock was running down. Then we were able to find that penetrating pass. We were able to find a couple of things that worked for us."
made two free throws and two jumpers, cutting Phoenix's deficit to 92-89 with 1:51 to go. Bryant and Bell traded misses before Odom again tracked down a loose ball and found Smush Parker for a layup and a 94-89 advantage with 49 seconds to go.
It was at least a two-possession game thereafter as Bryant made three free throws in the final 27 seconds. He made 12-of-24 shots and added five assists.
scored 12 points and Sasha Vujacic added 11 for the Lakers, who shot 51 percent (38-of-75), including 9-of-16 from the arc.
The Lakers host Game 3 and Game 4 on Friday and Sunday. Jackson is 14-0 all-time in first-round series.
Nash had 29 points and nine assists for the Suns, who shot just 42 percent (33-of-78) and turned their playmaker into a scorer.
Phoenix went scoreless for more than seven minutes in the first half and received just four points from its bench.
"I think it goes hand-in-hand with us being inexperienced and not making shots we normally do," Nash said. "We got a little bit down and started forcing shots. We also don't seem to be playing as hard as we normally do.
"In the first half, we weren't scrappy enough and offensively we panicked a bit. You can't give yourself a 15-point hole and expect to yourself to fight out of it and win in the playoffs.”
Bell scored 23 points and Shawn Marion
added 13 on just 5-of-15 shooting for the Suns.
Early on, Bryant was involved in a shouting match with Nash, who had 15 of Phoenix's first 20 points.
A jumper by Eddie House
gave the Suns a 22-19 lead before they inexplicably went nearly 7 1/2 minutes without a point. The Lakers scored 19 straight points - just two by Bryant - and opened a 36-22 lead midway through the second period.
"In the first half, for whatever reason, we were on our heels offensively and defensively," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
said. "Once we played as bad as we could, we said, 'The heck with it,' and picked it up. In the second half we played great. I don't think we had enough fight defensively and when we did, we could not get out on the break."
Phoenix appeared to get a break when Bryant sat down with his third foul with 3:01 to play in the first half. But Vujacic and Odom drained 3-pointers and Los Angeles actually widened its lead without its superstar to 53-38 at halftime.
"Kobe is going to do his thing," Odom said. "Everybody was sticking to the game plan and we picked it up. We were controlling the tempo and we made them pay."
Bryant opened the second half with a jumper to give the Lakers their largest lead before the Suns raced back into it with a 20-6 surge, closing to 61-58 on a 3-pointer by Tim Thomas. But Phoenix missed its next six shots and LA made four straight hoops - three by Bryant - to rebuild the lead to double digits.
"We are playing good basketball," Bryant said. "We played great defensively as a team. We played offensively as a team. When you play together as a cohesive unit, you can do a lot of things."