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Lakers hold down fourth against Suns

L.A. takes 2-0 lead over Phoenix in Western Conference finals with 124-112 victory.

May 19, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

The chant began with 90 seconds to play, picking up momentum again with a minute left, just in case the Boston Celtics and their followers missed it the first time.

"We want Boston!" over and over and over.

Lakers fans were rejoicing, understandably, as their team closed in on a 124-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns, good for a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals as purple and gold streamers fell on an effervescent crowd Wednesday at Staples Center.

It was a team effort in every sense of the oft-overused phrase, six Lakers scoring in double figures, their starters and Lamar Odom seemingly taking turns driving them to an eighth consecutive playoff victory.

Kobe Bryant had 21 points and set a playoff career-high with 13 assists. Odom had another game that Amare Stoudemire would probably call "lucky," finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. And Pau Gasol was there at the end, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points to finish with 29 and nine rebounds as the Lakers broke away from a 90-90 tie after three quarters.

The Lakers have been here before, holding a two-game lead over Phoenix in a playoff series that didn't exactly go their way back in 2006, but these are different times and a different vibe for almost two entirely changed rosters.

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday in Phoenix.

"What can you say? We can't slow them down," Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said. "Every time you make an adjustment to slow them down, they go somewhere else. There's a good reason that they're the world champs. But we'll keep plugging away."

They'll have to do more than that. The Lakers are averaging 126 points and shooting 57.8% in the conference finals, mind-blowing numbers at any level, particularly one round before the NBA Finals.

The Suns have plenty of holes to plug, to be sure, though they were in the game going into the fourth quarter as they imposed their will with a small lineup.

So Gasol answered with a slew of easy layups and the Lakers scored 34 in the fourth quarter, the fifth time they've broken 30 in eight quarters this series.

"That was a good way to finish the ball game for us," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They got their offensive machine kind of rolling out there and we had to find a way to buckle down."

Bryant switched from scorer in Game 1 (40 points) to distributor in Game 2, his 13 assists the most in a playoff game for the Lakers since Magic Johnson had 13 against Houston in April 1996.

Lakers fans were united in their disdain for Stoudemire, who undercut Odom's strong Game 1 by saying it was merely good fortune. The Suns' forward-center was jeered during pregame introductions and whenever he checked in and out of the game. Or had a turnover. Or had his shot blocked by Bryant. Or missed a dunk.

It all happened to Stoudemire, who finished with 18 points and only six rebounds in 41 minutes. In fact, he was unexpectedly matched in the points column by Ron Artest, who made six of nine shots, three of six from three-point range.

"With the triangle offense, they're moving the ball," Stoudemire said. "Artest shot the ball extremely well. That's something that we didn't expect."

The Lakers held a 3-1 lead on the Suns in a first-round series in 2006, only to become the eighth team in NBA history to lose a series after holding such a lead.

"These two teams are different," said Odom, one of five Lakers on that 2006 team.

Then he paused. "Hopefully we can do it."

Artest led all scorers at halftime, his 15 points going comfortably toward a 65-56 Lakers lead.

The third quarter marked a step back for the Lakers, Grant Hill scoring 14 on his own as the Suns caught the Lakers on the scoreboard.

"We kind of lost our way," Jackson said.

Then came the fourth quarter and, eventually, the end of the Suns' night.

Gentry had one last comment as he stepped down from the dais at his postgame news conference, looking ahead to Game 3 by telling media members, "I'm open for suggestions."

Not Lakers fans. They might get the Celtics soon enough.

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