LOS ANGELES, June 5 – Kobe Bryant had 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to power the Los Angeles Lakers to a 100-75 dominating win over Orlando in the opening game of the National Basketball Association Finals.
Bryant usually waits until the final quarter to close out his opponents but he buried the Magic with an 18-point third quarter in front of a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center on Thursday.
"I was taking what they gave me. They want to back off and give me a shot, I am happy to take it," Bryant said. "We wanted to keep our energy up and make sure we stayed the aggressor."
Pau Gasol had 16 points and Lamar Odom 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, who trying to make amends for losing in last year’s final to the Boston Celtics.
Bryant, who wants to prove he can win an NBA ring without former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, showed once again that he can raise his level of play and intensity with each new playoff series.
"He had a great run didn’t he," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of 2008 NBA MVP Bryant.
Dwight Howard had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the underdog Magic, who are making their first trip to the finals since 1995.
Game two is Sunday night in Los Angeles. The series shifts to Orlando for games three, four and five if necessary.
"There was nothing I liked," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "What was there to like?
"I told them in locker room I not blaming them. I got to do a better job with my game plan and play calling. But there was nothing I liked."
The Lakers shot 46 percent from the field and 15-of-18 from the free-throw line as they smothered Orlando’s three-point shooters.
The Lakers took the lead for good 34-33 on a Bryant jump shot with 7:05 left in the first half.
"He carried the game his way," Jackson said of Bryant. "I went there a little too often but he said ‘keep coming back to me.’"
The Magic swept both regular-season meetings between the clubs. Their 106-103 win in Orlando on December 20 came after a potential game-winning three-pointer by Sasha Vujacic rimmed out seconds before the final buzzer.
One month later, the Lakers again fell victim to the Magic 109-103 as Jameer Nelson nailed two three pointers in the final 86 seconds to clinch the win.
Until Thursday’s game, Nelson had not played a minute of the post-season for the Magic after undergoing mid-season shoulder surgery.
Nelson got his first taste of playoff action, entering the game at the start of the second quarter.
The Magic didn’t announce Nelson would play until an hour before the start of game one.
Nelson gave Orlando an initial spark early in the third but it was short-lived as the Lakers went on a 10-0 run halfway through the quarter to seize control.
"He played well in the second quarter," Van Gundy said. "In the second half I didn’t think he was good at all.
"He was forcing shots and plays after that. I don’t think you lay a 25-point loss on Jameer."
Bryant capped the scoring in first half with a coast-to-coast driving layup to give the Lakers a 10-point lead with four seconds left.
Bryant got help from teammates such as Andrew Bynum, who came out with plenty of spark, scoring nine points in a limited amount of playing time.
Bynum finished the first half with the same number of points (eight) as Orlando’s Howard.
Howard came into the series averaging 21.7 points per game, but Orlando’s all-star forward did not play his normal dominating style and the Magic struggled to contain the Lakers’ balanced attack.
"We need to find a starting point, something we can hang our hat on," Van Gundy said. "We got to do a better job of protecting the paint and rebounding the ball.
"We got a long way to go to get back into this thing. But we been a team that bounced back all year."
There is plenty on the line for Bryant, appearing in his sixth NBA finals, and Laker coach Jackson in this series.
Another NBA title for Jackson would give him a record 10 NBA championships, one more than legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach.