Lakers stave off Suns fightback to control series

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers resisted a spirited second half fightback by the Phoenix Suns to increase their lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals with a 124-112 Game Two victory Wednesday.

The visiting Suns were crushed 128-107 in Monday's series opener and trailed by 14 points shortly after half-time, before they raised hopes of an upset win on the NBA champions' home court by tying the game at 90-90 going into the final quarter.

However, the bigger Lakers coolly increased the tempo with their powerful inside presence and Spanish forward Pau Gasol, the dominant player in the fourth period with Kobe Bryant's assistance, finished with a game-high 29 points.

"In the second and third quarters, they (the Suns) got their offensive machine rolling. We had to find a way to buckle down and get our game going for us in the fourth quarter."

In front of a capacity Staples Center crowd of 19,000, All-Star guard Bryant weighed in with 21 points and a playoff-high 13 assists while forward Ron Artest contributed 18 points on six-for-nine shooting.

Lamar Odom made a huge impact for the Lakers off the bench for the second game in a row as he added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Guard Jason Richardson led the Suns with 27 points and forward Grant Hill delivered 23.

WANTING BOSTON

The Lakers shot better than 57 percent against the Suns and the sellout crowd began to chant 'We want Boston' as the game ended, referring to the Celtics who lead the Orlando Magic 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.

Gasol's rousing display in the fourth quarter to finish the night with 11-for-19 shooting earned the athletic Spaniard fulsome praise from his facilitator Bryant.

"Pau was great," Bryant said. "He really took advantage of the defense tonight and he played huge for us. He's just making all the right reads and all the right plays."

Although Phoenix hit back in the second with Jared Dudley landing three three-pointers to trail by only three, the Lakers regained control to grab a 65-56 advantage by half-time.

Again the Suns clawed their way back, Richardson and Hill setting the tone in the third quarter before a Steve Nash running jump shot pulled them level at 90-90.

With Hollywood actors Danny DeVito, Tom Cruise, Hillary Swank and Jack Nicholson among the fans watching the action, the Lakers were in no mood to fluff their lines and made sure they retained home court advantage with a solid late display.

Bryant continued to focus on assisting and the seven-foot Gasol took full advantage, dominating the smaller Suns players in the paint to score 14 points in the final quarter.

The series shifts to Phoenix for Game Three on Sunday.

(Editing by John O'Brien/Ian Ransom)