(AFP) – May 23, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — A 101-71 romp by the Los Angeles Lakers over defending champion San Antonio Spurs here Friday moved Kobe Bryant's club halfway to a berth in the National Basketball Association Finals.
NBA Most Valuable Player Bryant scored 22 points while Lamar Odom added 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead a devastating blowout by the Lakers, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.
"I wanted to try to keep them off balance," Bryant said. "The is a momentum team. We wanted to break that up, get them out of their comfort zone."
The Lakers can finish a sweep by winning Sunday and Tuesday at San Antonio, where the Spurs went 34-7 this season and 6-0 in the playoffs.
"We have to step up, starting with me," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "We have to get those two games at home. It's going to be tougher now. We still have confidence. We still believe."
San Antonio fell behind New Orleans 2-0 but rallied and advanced in seven games to meet the Lakers, but that feat brought little comfort.
"There's no comfort being down 0-2 ever," Spurs star Tim Duncan said. "We're either going to turn this thing around and make it a series or we're not. We're still confident. We're going to go home and try to change the tempo."
Either the Lakers or Spurs will face the Eastern Conference champion, Boston or Detroit, in next month's NBA Finals. The Celtics and Detroit are level 1-1 with game three Saturday at Detroit.
The Spurs, trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time in club history, remain a serious threat despite blowing a big lead in game one and never leading in game two, Bryant warned.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us," Bryant "They are going to up the pressure, try to take us out of our offensive rhythm. We have to do a better job of running our (offense), break up that pressure."
Odom scored 11 points in the third quarter when the Lakers pulled away to stay.
"I just brought my focus. I came out agressive and wanted to play well," Odom said. "I made a few mistakes but I changed my game. As the game went along I was able to rebound the ball. I tried to stay as aggressive as possible.
"We have to go out there and play the same way and maybe take one or two."
The Lakers were faster, more aggressive and played with a faster tempo and more energy than San Antonio in game two, blowing open the game from a 37-37 deadlock late in the second quarter.
Los Angeles went on a 20-4 run to end the first half with a 46-37 half-time lead and started the third quarter with a 9-4 run.
The Lakers, who improved to 7-0 at home in the playoffs, stretched the margin to 74-57 entering the fourth quarter as the Spurs went silent from the field the final three minutes of the third quarter.
"They came out in the third quarter with renewed vigor," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We answered that challenge and we were fortunate to get out of the quarter with that lead."
The fourth quarter was an anti-climax as San Antonio played reserves to rest top talent for game three and the Lakers' bench depth completed the rout.
Tony Parker led San Antonio with 13 points while Duncan had 12 points and 16 rebounds but took only one shot in the second half. Ginobili, hurt by a sore ankle, was only 2-of-8 for seven points and was by far his own harshest critic.
"I'm not taking it that the ankle is limiting me. I'm just playing bad," Ginobioli said. "I have to play better. I have to be more aggressive.
"I played terrible but I know I can perform better, really help the team, be more me. Today I was not aggressive enough. I didn't make anything happen."
The Lakers improved to 32-7 since obtaining big man Pau Gasol from Memphis, turning Bryant from an unhappy star pondering leaving the Lakers to a leader sparking the club from mediocre to title contender.
"It's the answer to a prayer," Bryant said. "It's a great opportunity and we want to take advantage of it."
Gasol's arrival has provided offensive opportunities for Bryant and Odom.
"Lamar knows he can be a great player now. He knows he can go get it," said Bryant. "(Having Gasol) frees him up a lot more now, lets him do what he can do more because he doesn't have two guys breathing on him now."
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