There were a few reasons critics doubted how well the Los Angeles Lakers would play heading into the Western Conference Finals against the red hot Phoenix Suns.
First, there were doubts that superstar Kobe Bryant would be off rhythm from too much rest for his ailing knee. Then there was speculation of how well Lakers center Andrew Bynum would play dealing with his injury. And next, were the claims that the Suns’ reserve players would outmatch the Lakers’ bench just enough to edge out wins.
But the LA Lakers silenced all critics during Game 1 of the series on Monday night, May 17, completely dogging the Suns, 128-107, which even caught their own legendary coach Phil Jackson by surprise.
“This was surprising for us,” Jackson told reporters of the double-digit win. “Maybe we’ve peaked.”
If the Lakers have peaked, it was because of the incredible performance Bryant has been putting on throughout the entire postseason. Kobe hadn’t practiced most since LA won its last series, resting his knee which had been recently drained of fluid. But that didn’t stop him from leading his team with a game-high 40 points Monday night, 21 points scored in the third quarter that helped the Lakers jump out to a huge lead.
It was the 11th time Bryant scored at least 40 points in a playoffs game, and was also the first time in his 14-year career he scored 30 or more points in six straight postseason games. Kobe said the rest helped a lot.
“Now I feel like I have two legs to play with,” Bryant said. “I have better balance on my shot, and shots aren’t going short anymore.”
Another reason LA cruised to victory was the stellar play of its reserves, especially standout Lamar Odom, who contributed a double-double of 19 points and 19 rebounds.
“I didn’t want to really wait,” Odom told reporters. “I said to myself if I’m going to have a bad game, then I’m going to have a bad game going out swinging. I tried to attack.”
Meanwhile, Phoenix played uncharacteristically, missing most shots they would have normally made. Suns star Amar’e Stoudemire led his team with 23 points, but only grabbed three rebounds, while floor general Steve Nash finished with his normal average of 13 assists, but only scored 13 points.
“To be honest, they missed a lot of shots they’ve made this entire postseason,” Bryant said during the postgame press conference. “We’ve got to do a much better job in Game 2 and the rest of the series.”
Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Suns series will tip off on Wednesday night, May 19.