Andrew Bynum, bench lift Lakers
TORONTO -- Given recent concerns Pau Gasol has been suffering from fatigue, few would have faulted him for appearing tired during the last game of the Los Angeles Lakers' six-game Eastern road trip against the Toronto Raptors. But thanks to Andrew Bynum and the Lakers' bench, Gasol and the starters got some needed rest -- and L.A. beat Toronto 120-110 at Air Canada Centre for its fifth consecutive win.
Led by Bynum's season-high 16 points and seven rebounds, the Lakers' bench outscored the Raptors' reserves by 30 points (57-27) and allowed coach Phil Jackson to keep Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom on the bench for long stretches of time, including the first seven-plus minutes of the fourth quarter.
With Raptors leading scorer Andrea Bargnani out for the game because of a sore right ankle, Toronto simply didn't have the big bodies to compete against Gasol and Bynum, or the Lakers' depth in general.
"I was very pleased with the bench," Jackson said. "I thought they bailed out the starters with a significant amount of minutes. We relied on them, played them a little bit longer. Toronto has an injury, Bargnani is out, and that made a difference -- they didn't have the size to contest."
Bryant had a team-high 20 points (on 6-for-12 shooting from the floor) in just 28:19 of court time for the Lakers (21-7), while Gasol finished with 19 points and eight boards in 30 minutes. No Lakers starter played more than Odom's 33:34 -- and Ron Artest played just 20:21. That was in large part due to the Lakers getting solid efforts from bench players like Matt Barnes (12 points and a team-best nine rebounds) and Shannon Brown (14 points on 5-for-7 shooting).
"The end of a road trip, we want to finish strong, no matter who does it," said Barnes, who nearly joined the Raptors in the summer before signing with the Lakers. "Tonight the bench showed up big and carried the game for us."
In front of a sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,935 that at times seemed to have as many Lakers fans as Raptors boosters, the Raptors came out of the gate hard, going on a 15-9 run in the final five minutes of the first quarter and shooting 60 percent from the floor to lead 34-28 heading into the second frame.
That was enough for Jackson to give his bench players an extended look.
"We had a lot of turnovers in the first quarter," Jackson said when asked what he didn't like about his team's performance. "We gave up 34 points. Start right there that's a terrible first quarter."
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But thanks to Bynum, Barnes and the bench, the Lakers began to impose their will on the undersized and overmatched Raptors, holding Toronto to only 15 points in the second quarter and scoring 29 to take a 57-49 lead into halftime.
Bynum was playing just his fourth game of the season after missing 24 games because of surgery on his right knee.
"My first couple games the game felt really, really fast because I'd been out for so long," Bynum said, "but now it feels like it's slowing down a little bit and I'm feeling more comfortable out there."
The Raptors continued to try to chip away at a Lakers advantage that grew to as many as 16 points in the third quarter; at one point in the final frame, Toronto was down by just four points, but every time the Raptors got close, L.A.'s bench brigade pushed back harder.
"We know that's their M.O. -- when they get down, to apply pressure," Barnes added. "And they're good at it. But we were ready. The starters played well the whole trip, and we kind of carried them tonight."
Added Raptors point guard Jose Calderon: "Shannon Brown and Barnes got a couple of big 3s, and Andrew Bynum got us a little bit at the end. We've got a good defense, but [Bynum] is long. Even when we fouled him, he made his free throws. But they're a good team. They're the champions for a reason."
The Lakers went 5-1 on their road trip and have won eight of their past 10 games. They return home to host Milwaukee on Tuesday, then take on the 21-8 Miami Heat at Staples Center on Christmas Day. But Jackson isn't looking beyond the 10-15 Bucks.
"We have Milwaukee [next], and it doesn't matter in your record whether you beat Miami or you beat Milwaukee," Jackson said. "It's still the same -- a 'W' or an 'L.'"Adam Proteau is a columnist for The Hockey News. He covered the Raptors for Toronto Radio in the Vince Carter era and is an occasional contributor to ESPN.com.