Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- In the first half, the Phoenix Suns tried to push around Shaquille O'Neal. In the second half, he pushed back.
The massive O'Neal had 37 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks and the Los Angeles Lakers clamped down on defense in a 105-77 rout in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series.
O'Neal worked through a slow start and a swarming defense by the smaller Suns to score 18 points in the first half, which ended with the favored Lakers holding a 46-41 lead.
"I missed a couple of chippies," O'Neal said. "Offensively, the team looked slow and sluggish. ... Second half, we did did a better job. We hit shots and we rebounded well."
Despite poor shooting and sloppy play, Phoenix was still in the game. But the Suns appeared to back off in the second half and the 7-2 O'Neal dominated, as he has all season.
"Shaq does have quite a few pounds on me," said Suns forward Cliff Robinson, who took his turn trying to guard O'Neal. "I'm not going to be able to move him anywhere. So you just don't stop him. It's really that simple."
"We were at a point in the game where we wanted to change and start double-teaming him, but that's very difficult for us because that's not our game and that's not really how we play," Suns coach Scott Skiles said. "He got off on us and he has all year long."
The clear favorite for NBA Most Valuable Player made 15-of-28 shots and 7-of-10 free throws. He also had seven offensive rebounds to help the Lakers, who shot an unimpressive 43.5 percent (40-of-92) but remained unbeaten in five games against the Suns this season.
Kobe Bryant scored 25 points for Los Angeles, which allowed only 36 points in the second half and remained untouchable at home in the postseason. The Lakers have won all four home playoff games by an average of 22.3 points. Game Two is Wednesday at Los Angeles.
"They're more of a perimeter defensive team, so it's very easy to get the ball into Shaq and let him punish them," Bryant said.
"They do not have anybody inside that can contain Shaq."
Penny Hardaway scored 25 points but was the only Phoenix player who had a solid game. The Suns shot just 36 percent (28-of-77) and committed 23 turnovers that gave the Lakers 28 points.
"They scored 28 points off our turnovers. We scored four off theirs," Skiles said. "There's the game right there. It's been one of our weaknesses all year long."
"You have to credit their defense with our overpassing," said Hardaway. "I think you have to be aggressive but you have to pick and choose the times you want to in the playoffs. And we didn't do a good job of that."
Center Luc Longley was intimidated by O'Neal and had four points and four turnovers. All-Star guard Jason Kidd had just three points and five turnovers. Scoring forwards Robinson and Rodney Rogers combined to commit nine fouls while making 7-of-24 shots.
"We missed our assignments a lot and did not do our job," said Longley. "We gave them a lot of possessions coming off the offensive end and you can't win a game that way."
"We put pressure on Jason and tried to take them out of their offense and not let him initiate things so smoothly," Bryant said.
O'Neal began the game with a jumper but missed his next six shots. Baskets by Rogers and Kevin Johnson to open the second quarter gave the Suns a 22-18 lead and the Lakers looked as if they had a game on their hands.
But O'Neal finally got going, scoring 14 points in the period.
Bryant scored seven straight Lakers' points for a 42-33 lead with 3:14 remaining before a runner and 3-pointer by Hardaway got the Suns back in it.
"I think I got too much rest and I felt kind of sluggish, but I picked it up," O'Neal said.
Despite being outscored 14-0 off turnovers, Phoenix still was in the game at halftime. But the Suns were overpowered in the third quarter by O'Neal, who scored 12 points on layups, short hooks and free throws.
Longley struggled on both ends and Kidd was ineffective as the Suns slowly came apart. Bryant scored nine points to help Los Angeles build a 75-60 lead entering the final period.
"We didn't get back on defense, either," Robinson said. "We spent a lot of energy and then threw the ball away unforced. It makes it hard to get everybody back on defense."
O'Neal scored seven points in a 15-4 surge that began the fourth quarter and extended the lead to 90-64 with just over seven minutes remaining. Phoenix shot 32 percent (11-of-34) in the second half.
The Lakers held a 52-42 rebounding edge and cruised despite only seven points from forward Glen Rice. Robinson scored 13 points and rookie Shawn Marion added 12 for the Suns, who made just 3-of-18 3-pointers.