Although you won’t find any record of it at Cal Tech or the Jet Propulsion Lab, tonight some 20,000 NBA fans witnessed a total eclipse at the Staples Center as the Lakers torched the Phoenix Suns 128-107.
Despite Kobe Bryant’s 40 points (21 in the third quarter), it was a cohesive team victory. Bryant was able to dominate because the other Lakers all did their jobs.
The Lakers' bigs would not be denied, scoring in the paint, pounding the boards and not allowing many second chance opportunities. The Lakers were plus 18 in the paint and out-rebounded the Suns 42-34.
Pau Gasol had 21 points while Lamar Odom had a double-double off the bench with 19 points and 19 rebounds (a career playoff high).
Even the other members of the much maligned Lakers bench came through with Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar combining for 19 points.
Ron Artest, who has had problems this season with his perimeter shooting, scored 14 points and dished off five assists. As usual, Artest played stellar defense with five rebounds, two steals and a block.
But the one aspect that the statistics don’t show is Artest’s perimeter defense. That was a huge part in the turnaround beyond the arc for the two teams.
The Suns were the best three-point shooting team in the NBA this year. But tonight, the Lakers hit on 47 percent, 8-of-17 from the three-point area while the Suns made only 5-of-22, just 23 percent.
And here’s more bad news for the Suns, Kobe Bryant scored his 40 points in just 35 minutes. So expect Bryant, who sat out the last nine minutes of the fourth quarter, to be well rested for Game Two
While it is still too soon to print up those tickets for the NBA Finals, the Lakers-Celtics Rematch of the Century that I spoke about in my last article is now one step closer to reality.