When the Los Angeles Lakers led Phoenix by 21 points in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom were pretty sure their night would end briskly and tidily.
After three overtimes, 276 combined points and a season's worth of heart-stopping moments, Bryant and Odom were merely grateful to stagger out of Staples Center with a victory in a once-in-a-decade thriller.
Bryant scored a season-high 42 points, Ron Artest got five of his 18 points in the final 2 minutes of the third overtime, and the Lakers outlasted the Suns for a 139-137 win Tuesday night in an enormously entertaining rematch of last season's Western Conference finals.
"I wish we would have put them away when we should have," said Odom, who had a season-high 29 points and 16 rebounds while playing over 55 minutes filling in for suspended center Andrew Bynum. "But we found a way to win, and that's all that matters.
"I'm tired. I want to go home. I'm in the mood for pancakes."
Pau Gasol added 24 points, including two tying free throws after recovering a loose ball with 2.5 seconds left in the second overtime of the Lakers' 13th win in 14 games since the All-Star break.
From Channing Frye's clutch 3-pointers and Steve Nash's relentless playmaking to Bryant's usual big-game grit, both teams traded improbable last-second heroics in what turned into just the fourth triple-overtime game for the Lakers since they moved to Los Angeles. The Lakers hadn't hosted a triple-OT game since 1969.
The two-time defending NBA champions repeatedly bent, but they never broke — and afterward, Bryant didn't even acknowledge feeling tired.
"We're the champs," Bryant said. "We've got a lot of mental toughness, and we just keep on fighting. It's not anything new."
Frye scored a career-high 32 points and hit three tying free throws with 1.1 seconds left to force double overtime for Phoenix, while Nash had 19 points and 20 assists in the Suns' fifth loss in seven games. Even worse than losing a 63-minute game, the Suns had to fly home immediately to host Toronto on Wednesday night.
"We have resolve. We play hard, and we compete like crazy," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We were playing a helluva basketball team tonight, a team that's playing better than anybody in the league right now. They're 13-1 since the All-Star break. We had a chance to do something special, and we didn't quite get it done, so obviously it hurts."
Phoenix rallied from an enormous deficit in the second half and another nine-point hole in the final 3 minutes of regulation, forcing OT on Grant Hill's 3-pointer with 31 seconds left. Bryant and Vince Carter both missed last-second shots.
"I was trying to get it to Steve, and somehow the ball made it back to me and I made the shot," said Hill, who scored 11 points before fouling out. "At that point, we had fought pretty hard to get back in the game. They had a big lead in the second half, and we managed to get it to overtime. As bad as it feels, we just have to regroup and get ready for our game tomorrow."
Frye, who played 57 minutes, hit three free throws to even the first overtime when Odom intentionally fouled him an instant after his shooting motion began. Frye then added a go-ahead 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in the second OT.
Gasol coolly replied with two tying free throws for Los Angeles, and Bryant prevented Hill from taking a last-second shot, forcing triple OT.
"We told these guys Phoenix plays great when they come into our building," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They had some good runs here over the years, but we eventually prevailed."
Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 left in the third overtime before Artest made a steal and dunked — a rarity for the ground-bound defensive specialist — to put the Lakers up 135-132. Artest then made a fallaway jumper, and after yet another 3-pointer from Frye, Carter missed a jumper that allowed Bryant to finish it off with a floating 11-footer with 14 seconds left instead of running out the clock.
"That was crazy, but we were just trying to hang on," Artest said. "That was like a heavyweight fight, trading punches."
Bryant and Artest came up with the big late baskets in the Lakers' fifth straight victory, but the stakes were higher for the 10th-place Suns, who are scrapping to return the playoffs. The Lakers, sitting in second place in the West, already clinched their woeful division Sunday, taking a 14-game lead over the Suns.
Two days after playing a deliberate game in an 84-80 win over Portland, the Lakers ratcheted up their tempo to the Suns' preferred speed — and it nearly cost them. The Lakers led 89-68 with 4:45 left in the third quarter, but Aaron Brooks' 3-pointer cut the lead to 97-96 with 9:18 to play, completing a 28-8 run that began with three 3-pointers by Nash.
After Phoenix tied it at 101 with 6:53 left, the Lakers scored the next nine points before Phoenix's 11-2 run to end regulation, capped by 3-pointers from Frye and Hill.
Bryant appeared to be moving fluidly on his sprained ankle after Jackson confirmed it was "much better" than last week.
The Lakers played their second straight game without Bynum, suspended for a flagrant foul on Minnesota's Michael Beasley last week. His shotblocking inside presence was minimally important against the Suns, who play almost entirely on the perimeter.
Notes: Brooks returned for the Suns after serving a one-game suspension Sunday for throwing a ball at an official. ... Both teams wore their Spanish-language jerseys on Noche Latina. ... Fans included Leslie Mann, Chris O'Donnell, Mindy Kaling and directors Oliver Stone and Michael Bay.