Lakers vs Suns: Pau Gasol Leads LA in Phoenix
Phoenix hung around all game long, thanks to never letting L.A. go on a huge run of more than seven or eight points. And, they held their own in the rebound battle, an area that Suns coach Alvin Gentry specifically pointed to before the game as an area of concern. But in the end, the depth of the Lakers -- as it's likely to be against the majority of their opponents this season -- was simply too much, and L.A. pulled away for a 114-106 victory to improve to 2-0 on the young season.
1ST Q LAL 28, PHX 27
Kobe Bryant came out aggressive from the opening tip, and led the Lakers in both scoring and rebounding with eight and five in the period. Grant Hill had the same eight for the Suns, and seemed to take it personally when Derek Fisher ended up isolated on him defensively -- Hill attacked with purpose both times and scored easily. Lamar Odom made a point of similarly attacking Hedo Turkoglu down low, and was able to score on him twice.
Jared Dudley provided a late spark for the Suns, and managed to score seven points in the 2:25 he was on the floor. One bucket came on a nice offensive rebound, where he went right around Bryant to grab the ball and score on the putback.
Gentry said before the game that if his team could find a way to rebound against L.A., they'd have a chance. In the first, the Lakers ended up with a 13-9 advantage on the boards, but thanks to the Suns outshooting them, they were able to remain within a single point.
2ND Q LAL 57, PHX 50
Goran Dragic sparked the Suns in the second, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the period. The final three came on a pretty drive where he spun around Steve Blake, and then hit a floater over a leaping Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff as he was fouled.
Grant Hill continued to be aggressive, and added six more points after checking in for Dragic to pump his total to 14.
On the Lakers side, Pau Gasol (above right, outmuscling Suns center Robin Lopez) continued to exploit the fact that the Suns (like many teams in the league) have no answer for him defensively, and ended the half as the Lakers leading scorer with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
L.A. was able to open up a seven-point halftime lead thanks to scoring the last five of the period, on a jumper by Gasol followed by a long, dagger-style three from Fisher with the shot clock winding down and just 27 seconds left.
3RD Q LAL 87, PHX 79
The Suns quickly cut the halftime deficit from seven to two, before the the three-pointers started flying. Ron Artest, then Bryant, then Artest poured in threes as part of a 9-2 L.A. run, and then Steve Nash answered with one of his own to make sure the game stayed within reach.
Hill continued his strong play with seven more in the period, but the Lakers once again closed the quarter strong. L.A. ended on a 9-3 run that was capped by a high-flying, two-handed breakaway dunk by Shannon Brown.
The Lakers extended their lead to 13 a couple of minutes in, on the strength of two three-pointers by former Phoenix Sun Matt Barnes. The Suns bench then went on a 9-2 run against the Lakers' reserves to pull within six, before Bryant and Gasol checked back in with 6:41 to play.
After a missed three-pointer from Channing Frye, Gasol fed Bryant underneath for a layup, and order was quickly restored.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
As you might imagine, the Suns fans get a little extra amped when the Lakers come to town -- partly due to the fact that L.A. has won two straight titles, but also because of the relatively short distance between the two NBA cities. Phil Jackson talked about this "rivalry" before the game, and said that the fact that Phoenix natives probably aren't too thrilled with transplants from California coming into their building to root against the home team is part of what fuels it.
These factors make for an interesting atmosphere, one where there are loud cheers when either team scores -- the Suns fans cheer for their team of course, but there are also a combination of cheers and cries of outrage every time a Laker makes a shot.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE PART 2
Joey Crawford was the lead official for this one, so the league's new rules for handing out "respect the game" technical fouls were expected to really be put to the test.
But Crawford plays by his own rules, and deals out his own brand of justice. He chose to only issue a single technical the entire night (to Matt Barnes midway through the fourth), despite the fact that he had plenty of other legitimate opportunities to do so.