Whatever it is about the Phoenix Suns that brings out the best in the Lakers and Kobe Bryant needs to be carried over to every other opponent the Lake Show faces. The first half of this home-and-home series went the way of Los Angeles as an offensive explosion led to a 111-99 Laker victory.
Believe it or not this one was a back and forth battle that could have gone either way. Phoenix opened up a 7-point lead in the first half thanks to Marcin Gortat and Steve Nash who were connecting like Legos all night.
Gortat ran the floor, finished at the rim and controlled the boards as he paved the way for Phoenix with a sick line of 21 and 16. Normally you’d think getting that kind of production from your center would be good enough to win the battle in the middle. But that’s not going to cut it when Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are as active as they were tonight.
The Laker bigs weren’t heavily involved in the offense so they did their damage by owing the paint. Both Gasol and Drew posted double-doubles as the twin towers combined for 27 and 27. Pau’s underwhelming shooting continues to be troublesome but who needs a seven footer shooting a high percentage when you’ve got Mamba locked in?
There is just no other way to say this…
Kobe Bryant kills the Suns. After a 36-point, 9-rebound and 6-assist effort Bryant could only smile when asked if there is something about Phoenix that brings out the best in him.
You can almost hear Bryant’s thoughts on nights like this. As if every bad memory of the Suns running the Lake Show out of the playoffs some years ago was on a constant loop on the Staples scoreboard, Kobe played with a Nash sized chip on his shoulder.
KB24 shot lights out going 14 of 25 with a lot of those coming in very unorthodox fashion. 18 of Kobe’s points came in the third helping the Lakers to blow their lead all the way up to a healthy 20-point cushion.
But that lead wouldn’t last.
While the Lakers got perhaps their best effort of the year from the bench, the second unit was largely responsible for letting the Suns back into this one.
Falling into the trap of trying to run with the Suns allowed Phoenix to cut the Laker lead down to single digits at one point in the final frame. Former Laker Shannon Brown had a sick tip dunk that put Phoenix square in position to steal a win.
Mike Brown called a timeout, the starters were reinserted and order was restored.
What stands out about this game was the infectious energy every Laker brought to the table. Matt Barnes was fired up and feisty going for a season high 17 on 6 of 7 shooting. Were it not for a desperation heave to beat the shot clock Barnes would have had a perfect night.
With regards to perfection, Bryant hit all the right notes. Kobe was in killer mode from the start and never let his foot off the gas. He was determined to school Grant Hill whenever the two were facing each other. Bryant was diving for balls out of bounds, making left hand floaters and pulling up for threes in transition.
As a team the Lakers shot a ridiculous 53% from the field, 45% from three and 75% from the line. Those are numbers that will always win in the NBA.
Overall it was the kind of effort you’d love to see the Lakers give every night. The bench looked nothing like their usual listless selves. There was a real effort made to outplay the Suns’ second string as if Coach Brown issued some kind of challenge before the opening tip.
If it takes seeing the Suns to get those purple and gold juices flowing then the Lakers are in luck. They’ll get Saturday to rest and then Sunday they’ll see those same Suns again this time in Phoenix. Slowly but surely momentum is being built and it couldn’t come at a better time. The week leading up to the All-Star break is filled with crucial contests for the Lakers. They’ll need the Phoenix effort against the Likes of the Blazers, Mavs and Thunder in the coming days.