LOS ANGELES -The Lakers didn’t exactly seem to have things going their way at Staples Center Friday night. The Suns forced a thoroughbred pace early (they just missed a host of open shots).
The Lakers then seemed to forget about the guy wearing No. 8. Maybe they were looking for No. 24, the number Kobe Bryant plans to wear next season.
Bryant nearly became a stick figure. He took only five of the Lakers’ 28 shots in the first quarter, nine of their 51 in the first half, 10 of their first 68. He scored only 17. Smush Parker, believe it or not, led the Lakers with 18 points.
Yet they still had enough to down the Suns, thanks to a monstrous 53-34 rebounding average.
“The rebounds say it all,” coach Phil Jackson said. “That was the difference in this ballgame."
Jackson, though pleased with the win, criticized his team for trying to play at the Suns’ pace.
“Home teams like to play at a higher pace,” Jackson said. “We got caught up in that. . . We didn’t play at our pace. The result was a lot of 3-pointers.”
In fact, the Suns went 10-for-23 on 3s.
“That’s almost their average,” Jackson said.
Still, “Key defensive plays held us in the game,” Jackson said. And Bryant, though he may dominate one of the upcoming games, seems content to “move the ball and do the right things for us,” Jackson said. Bryant said, “We’re just playing so well together. We’re reading the defense and spacing the floor.
“That’s what basketball is all about.”
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged that this isn’t the same team the Suns saw during the regular season.
“They peaked at the right time,” D’Antoni said.
Down 39-35, the Lakers took control with an 12-0 run that put them up 47-39.
They would lose the lead only briefly thereafter. Sasha Vujacic, who has lost his “nobody” status in this series, keyed the run with two 3-pointers.
Even when they missed, the Lakers often would grab the rebound and score. Or try again.
The Lakers outscored the Suns in the paint 34-10 in the first half, 58-30 for the game.
The game was characterized by hard fouls, technicals and brief skirmishes.
Naturally, the coaches saw things from their own vantage point.
Jackson suggested the Suns were trying to “make a stand and make a statement” because, “I think they felt intimidated at some point during the game.”
Asked about this, D’Antoni responded, “You mean the tackle on the first play of the game?”
His reference: Luke Walton’s flagrant foul on Tim Thomas to start the game.