LOS ANGELES (AP) – By the third overtime, everybody on the court appeared drained from their heads to their sneakers. The Suns’ fast breaks slowed to a trickle, and the Lakers’ shots fell short from wobbly legs.
Basketball games aren’t supposed to last 63 minutes, with a week’s worth of highlight-reel cliffhangers. These guys were just trying to survive.
Yet almost nobody in the raucous Staples Center stands left early, as Hollywood often does. Everybody sensed a small slice of hoops history in this marathon thriller, and their Lakers finally staggered into a happy ending.
Kobe 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 Los Angeles outlasted Phoenix for a 139-137 victory 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 Lamar 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.”
He’ll have time for a leisurely breakfast: Lakers coach Phil Jackson gave his starters Wednesday off. All five played at least 46 minutes, including all three overtimes.
Phoenix had seven scorers in double figures, with five who played at least 40 minutes. What’s worse, the Suns had to fly home to host Toronto on Wednesday night.
“We really needed this game,” said Phoenix’s Channing Frye, who had a career-high 32 points and 14 rebounds. “This one hurts.”
When the Lakers led Phoenix by 21 points late in the third quarter, they seemed pretty sure their night would end briskly and tidily with their 13th win in 14 games since the All-Star break.
This game was only halfway over.
Forcing the two-time defending NBA champions to play at their preferred breakneck tempo, the Suns made a huge second-half surge that included a 28-8 rally before a smaller recovery from a nine-point hole with 3 minutes left. Grant Hill then forced overtime with a last-minute 3-pointer.
After an ill-advised foul by Odom, Channing Frye coolly hit three free throws with 1.1 seconds left to tie it at 121 in the first OT. Bryant lost the ball in the waning moments of the second overtime, but Pau Gasol grabbed it and hit two free throws to tie it at 130 with 2.5 seconds left.
Despite blowing a prodigious lead, the Lakers found several ways around an imminent loss – and afterward, Bryant didn’t even acknowledge feeling tired.
“We’re the champs,” said Bryant, who capped the win by rushing downcourt for an 11-foot jumper with 14 seconds left in triple OT, declining to run out the clock. “We’ve got a lot of mental toughness, and we just keep on fighting. It’s not anything new.”
Gasol added 24 points and 13 rebounds in just the Lakers’ fourth triple-overtime game since they moved to Los Angeles in 1960. The Lakers hadn’t hosted a triple-OT game since 1969.
The stakes were higher for the 10th-place Suns (35-34), who are scrapping to return the playoffs. Steve Nash had 19 points and 20 assists, while Marcin Gortat added 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Suns’ fifth loss in seven games.
“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.”
Even worse than losing a triple-OT game, the Suns must rally for a visit from the Raptors on Wednesday night – but they’re hoping this epic is a springboard for a strong finish in their final 13 games.
“We just have to be professional,” said Nash, who hit five 3-pointers. “You go out tomorrow and do the best you can. .. It was a big loss. There is no other way to put it.”
Frye, who played 57 minutes and hit five 3-pointers, evened the first overtime when Odom intentionally fouled him an instant after his shooting motion began. With the crowd screaming in his face, Frye shot three perfect free throws, and Odom missed a 19-foot fallaway at the buzzer.
“It’s going to sound kind of funny, but I feel like there’s no pressure,” said Frye, still wearing a bulky brace on his injured shoulder. “If they go in, they go in. If they don’t, they don’t. I’ve been a hero and I’ve been a goat before, so it’s nothing.”
Frye then added a go-ahead 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in the second OT. After Gasol tied it for Los Angeles with his own ice-cold free throws, Bryant prevented Hill from taking a last-second shot, forcing triple OT.
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.
“When he wants to do something, he puts his mind to it,” Artest said of Bryant. “He was animated, and he carried us, and he trusted us when it most counted. That’s Black Mamba for you.”
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: Bryant had his third 40-point game of the season and the 107th of his career. … The Lakers’ last triple-overtime game was Dec. 29, 2006, at Charlotte. … Aaron Brooks scored 15 points in his return 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.