Nothing has come easy for the Lakers this season, so why stop in Game 2 of the first round?
They watched their 19-point lead carved into near nothingness by the Denver Nuggets but fended them off in a 104-100 victory Tuesday at Staples Center.
It looked like a blowout, and then it wasn't, though Lakers fans were the ones chanting the familiar "M-V-P" mantra with Kobe Bryant at the line in the final seconds.
He turned back the clock with 38 points and Andrew Bynum asserted his case for the NBA's top center, setting a playoff career high with 27 points as the Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Games 3 and 4 will be Friday and Sunday in Denver.
Despite the final score, it's hard for the Lakers to panic.
In 96 minutes of the series, the Nuggets have never led. And that's with Metta World Peace serving a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden.
Pau Gasol had 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Playoff newcomer Ramon Sessions had 14 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
There were issues, though. Some surprising ones too.
It wasn't strange to see point guard Ty Lawson with 25 points and seven assists. It was much more suspect to see the Nuggets actually outrebound the Lakers, 52-48, outscore them in the paint, 60-52, and beat them in second-chance points, 26-19.
"Their activity on the offensive glass really hurt us," said Lakers Coach Mike Brown, mentioning the 19 offensive rebounds the Nuggets pulled down. "We definitely have to clean up the offensive glass part."
Said Bynum: "They were being more aggressive. They were desperate."
Bryant made 15 of 29 shots and was six for seven from the free-throw line.
He played some defense too, blocking a fastbreak dunk attempt by Al Harrington with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
Late in the game, as the Nuggets refused to go away, Bryant stole the ball from Kenneth Faried under the Nuggets' basket, dribbled down and fed Bynum for a dunk.
"He's going to bring it," Bynum said. "This is the time that he enjoys the most. The playoffs."
Not only is Bryant behind Michael Jordan in championships, he's chasing him in 30-point playoff games. Bryant had the 83rd of his career. Jordan holds the NBA record with 109.
Bynum showed some versatility while making 12 of 20 shots and blowing past his previous playoff career high of 21 points.
He hit a 10-foot fadeaway in the second quarter as double-teams buzzed around him. He also pump-faked after taking an offensive rebound, sending JaVale McGee and Faried into the air and scoring on a layup while being fouled. He missed the free-throw attempt, the only minus for him on the play.
"Andrew was really big for us," Brown said.
Sessions was a non-entity until the fourth quarter. He had never been to the postseason in four previous seasons with also-rans such as Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland.
He scored on a floater with 1:14 to play for a 100-94 lead and made two free throws with 20.9 seconds left to again establish a six-point lead.
Long before the game tightened, there was a humorous Gasol-to-Bynum fastbreak connection, Gasol dribbling the ball and lobbing it for a Bynum dunk.
Things got a lot tougher from there. It's the playoffs, after all.