The Lakers hosted the Phoenix Suns on Friday night in the first of a home-and-home series between L.A. and Phoenix. The two-game set began at Staples Center on Friday and will conclude Sunday evening back in Phoenix. The Lakers entered Friday night’s matchup following two days off.
Following wins in Toronto and against the Hawks on Tuesday, the Lakers were looking for their third consecutive victory. This was the second meeting between the two teams this season following a 99-83 Lakers’ victory back on Jan. 10.
The Lakers began the game looking to get center Andrew Bynum involved in the action. The first six points for Los Angeles were at Bynum’s hands. Unfortunately, the Lakers struggled closing out on some of the Phoenix shooters. Point guard Steve Nash, who has been having a very productive season thus far, was able to push the tempo and find open shooters on the offensive end. The Lakers’ inability early on to close out on open shooters put them in a small hole in the first quarter.
After the Lakers began to go away from Bynum the Suns were able to increase their lead. One of the biggest problems in the first quarter for Los Angeles was their inability to hold onto the ball. Turnovers have been one of the biggest issues plaguing the team all season, and they turned it over seven times in the first 12 minutes. However, the Lakers managed to stay in the game in large part due to the fact that Phoenix turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter.
Much of the scoring load fell on the shoulders of Bynum and Kobe Bryant. After Bynum scored the first six points of the game he went scoreless the rest of the quarter. However, Bryant picked it up as the quarter progressed, scoring seven points in the first 12 minutes. After the first quarter of play the Suns led the Lakers 25-21.
With the starters, other than Bynum, on the bench to begin the second quarter, the reserves were making it a point to force the ball inside the paint. After his hot start Bynum disappeared for the second half of the first quarter, he got it started again in the second. One of the reasons he was able to do so was due to solid passing from the Lakers’ second unit.
The production of the bench continued throughout the first half of the second quarter. One of the most productive players for the Lakers was forward Matt Barnes. He was very aggressive early, cutting to the basket and finding open passing lanes for other members of the team. Barnes also stepped beyond the arc and connected on the team’s first three-point basket of the game, which is another area of notable struggle for Los Angeles this season.
Los Angeles also got a surprising amount of first-half production from Troy Murphy. The backup forward scored eight points in the first half, including a three-point shot that capped off a 7-0 Lakers run. In the first half the L.A. bench accounted for 23 of the 57 total points for the Lakers, and Los Angeles led Phoenix 57-48.
The Lakers opened the third quarter struggling a bit, allowing Phoenix to pull back within five points just a minute into the quarter. However, after that they were able to pour on the offense and increase their lead back to double digits. A lot of the offense came from Kobe Bryant, who has a history of ripping the Suns. Bryant, who scored 14 points in the first half, turned up the heat in the third.
Bryant scored 18 points in the third, and did it in an impressive fashion. He was taking high percentage shots, and even the low percentage shots were falling for Bryant. He also got some more help from Barnes, who continued his strong offensive night in the third quarter.
One of the most productive things that Barnes does on a regular basis, and he did it again tonight, was attack the basket without the ball. Barnes’ movement without the ball is one of the best on the team, and he showcased that on Friday night. On multiple occasions Barnes cut to the hoop and was found by a teammate for an easy layup. Barnes’ aggressive play resulted in 15 points through three quarters, which helped the Lakers to an 87-73 lead at the end of the third.
After leading by 20 points in the third quarter the Lakers were looking to maintain that lead in the fourth. However, despite a very productive first half, the bench unit struggled in the fourth. Phoenix was able to cut the lead down to single digits.
One strong point in the fourth, and throughout the game, was the passing of Pau Gasol. While Gasol didn’t score a ton of points Friday night, and struggled with his shot, his contributions on offense were certainly noticeable. The 7-foot Spaniard made multiple passes through traffic, finding open teammates and resulting in easy assists.
While the Suns were able to get it close, the Lakers closed it out thanks to more offense from Bryant. Despite the fact that Phoenix was able to hit several three-point baskets and prevent the Lakers from putting the game away early in the fourth, the Lakers were able to answer every run that the Suns made. It’s no secret that the team has blown it’s fair share of leads this season, but this was one that they were determined to hang onto.
One of the reasons the Lakers hung onto their lead in the fourth was center Andrew Bynum. Other than Kobe, who led the scoring with 36, Bynum added 16 points of his own. But one of his biggest plays was a last-minute pass to Derek Fisher in the corner, who connected on a three-pointer that practically sealed the deal.
There’s no question that Bryant was the player of the game for the Lakers. Besides his 36 points, Bryant shot 14-25 from the floor, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists. Bryant also only turned the ball over three times, two of which were in the first quarter.
It was a rather well-rounded attack from the Lakers offensively, as they had five players record double-figure scoring. The Lakers also had a season-high in total points, defeating the Phoenix Suns 111-99.