Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Next.
Continuing their dominance at home, the Los Angeles Lakers had the best defensive effort of their storied playoff history in an 87-65 victory over the Phoenix Suns that wrapped up the Western Conference semifinals in five games.
Just as they said they would, the Lakers bounced back from Sunday's 117-98 loss in Phoenix with a vengeance. They held the Suns to an NBA postseason-record 23 points in the first half and the fourth-lowest total in playoff history.
"We had something to prove from the game before," Lakers guard Ron Harper said. "We came out this game and played harder."
"This game is a mystery to me," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The Suns can get 71 points in Sunday's ballgame in a half and then score 70 in a game."
Kobe Bryant scored 17 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 15 and 21 rebounds for the Lakers, who were not sharp offensively but did not have to be. Los Angeles improved to 6-0 in the postseason at the Staples Center, winning by an average of 18.7 points per game.
"I didn't play that well but my teammates stepped up for me," O'Neal said. "We played good defense and were real active with our hands. We came out and took it to them."
The Lakers reached the Western Conference finals for only the second time since 1991 and open at home Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers in a showdown of the league's top teams.
Many consider the squads to be playing for the NBA championship.
"We didn't want to think too far ahead but we match up with that team pretty well," O'Neal said. "They have a talented and deep bench and we just have to be ready."
The Suns were awful. They shot just 22 percent (8-of-37) from the field in the first half and had three more turnovers than baskets, falling into a 49-23 hole. They averaged a measly point per minute until late in the third period and broke the franchise low of 70, set against San Antonio in the first round.
"We were aggressive on all the screens," Jackson said. "We played hard through the picks. We challenged the ball and made passing difficcult."
Phoenix's first half broke the mark of 24 points set by Portland at Utah in 1996. The Suns made only 2-of-17 shots as they scored nine points in the second period, matching the second-lowest total for a postseason game.
"We just could not make shots," Suns coach Scott Skiles said.
"We looked at videotape during halftime of our first-half possessions and we were just not able to make shots. We had a buncch of open looks and just did not make them."
Reserve Todd Day was the only Sun in double figures with 10 points, most of them in garbage time. Phoenix's starters shot 11-of-52 with 10 turnovers. All-Star guard Jason Kidd was just 3-of-13 with two assists and five turnovers.
"It was just one of those nights when thingss just didn't go our way and kept snowballing," Kidd said.
"I think the reason we were so frustrated was because of all the trash-talking they did before the game," Suns guard Penny Hardaway said. "I think they had everybody's adrenaline going and then not to be able to knok down those kind of shots demoralized us."
The Lakers took the lead for good at 9-6 on Bryant's 3-pointer with 7:04 left in the first quarter. Bryant and Glen Rice each scored seven points in the period, which ended with Los Angeles holding a 21-14 advantage.
"We came out very aggressive and didn't let them do the things that they did when they really out it to us in Phoenix," Rice said. "The defense was definitely there."
The Suns shot just 30 percent (6-of-20) in the first quarter but that was their better period of the opening half. In the second quarter, they had a scoreless drought of 5:10 that took them entirely out of the contest.
Reserves Robert Horry and Rick Fox had 3-pointers in a 12-2 run that began the period and widened the lead to 33-16 with 8:17 left. Bryant had a pair of jumpers in a 10-0 spurt that made it 43-20 with 1:06 remaining.
"We lost our composure in the second quarter," Skiles said. "We were playing too fast and trying to do too much and we felt like they ahd a lead and we had to get it back all at once."
Los Angeles led 49-23 at halftime and Phoenix did not have more points than minutes played until Day's tip-in made it 60-34 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Lakers opened their largest lead at 73-42 on John Salley's free throw with 9:22 to play. The Suns surpassed the all-time playoff low of 54 on Day's layup with 5:28 left.
Rice scored 14 points and Salley grabbed 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who shot just 36 percent (29-of-80) but held a 59-43 rebounding advantage.