LOS ANGELES Pau Gasol finally discovered how it feels to be on the winning side in a postseason game. The 7-foot Spaniard had a whole lot to do with his first victory.
Gasol established playoff highs with 36 points and eight assists and had 16 rebounds as well Sunday as the Los Angeles Lakers took command early in the third quarter and beat the Denver Nuggets 128-114.
Gasol, a 27-year-old forward/center acquired from Memphis on Feb. 1 after spending 6 1/2 seasons with the Grizzlies, was 0-12 in three previous postseasons.
Kobe Bryant scored 18 of his 32 points in the final 8 minutes to keep Los Angeles safely ahead. Lamar Odom had 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and Luke Walton added 16 points for the Lakers, who entered having won eight of their last nine regular-season games to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Game 2 will be played Wednesday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series shifts to Denver for the third and fourth games.
Carmelo Anthony had 30 points and 12 rebounds for the eighth-seeded Nuggets. Allen Iverson also had 30 points before picking up two technical fouls with 2:10 remaining, calling for immediate ejection. Linas Kleiza scored a career playoff high 23 points and J.R. Smith added 15 before fouling out with 3:14 left.
The Nuggets should have it known wasn't going to be their day when several players were stranded on the Santa Monica Freeway for about a half-hour when the team bus broke down on the way to the game.
The bus left the team's hotel about 2 1/2 hours before tipoff as scheduled, but experienced problems about 15 minutes into the trip, spokesman Eric Sebastian said.
"There was a pop, black smoke, there was another pop, more black smoke," Sebastian said. "We rushed off the bus. We were standing on the side of the road."
The Nuggets' second bus, which left the team hotel about 30 minutes after the first one, stopped to pick up their teammates. The entire team made the rest of the trip to the arena, arriving about 90 minutes before game-time.
Denver had a 50-32 regular-season record, its best in 20 years. The Nuggets haven't won a playoff series since 1994, when as the eighth-seed, they upset the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics, coached by current Denver coach George Karl.
The Lakers led 97-78 entering the fourth quarter, but an 11-2 run by Denver made it 101-91 with 8:17 remaining. The Nuggets drew within nine twice down the stretch, but Bryant wouldn't allow them to get any closer.
Gasol had eight points and Bryant added five during a 15-4 spurt to start the third quarter, giving the Lakers a 73-60 lead. Gasol added six more points during a 14-5 run to finish the period.
Denver isn't known for its defense, finishing next-to-last in points allowed during the regular season, and it showed as the Lakers shot 10-of-16 to begin the game for a 21-11 lead.
It was 26-16 when the Lakers suddenly cooled off and Nuggets got hot. The result was a 25-7 run that put Denver on top 41-33. Kleiza and Smith combined to score Denver's first 20 points of the second quarter, getting 10 each. Then, with Gasol and Walton leading the way, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 18-9 to finish the period for a 58-56 halftime lead.
Many in the partisan crowd chanted: "DUI! DUI!" late in the opening period as Anthony shot two free throws a reference to his arrest last week.
Notes: Smith picked up a flagrant foul in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, throwing Walton to the floor. ... The Lakers were 3-0 against the Nuggets during the regular season, winning by an average of 16.3 points per game. It was more of the same Sunday. ... The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since 2004, when Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led them to the NBA finals, where they lost to Detroit in five games. O'Neal was traded to Miami shortly thereafter. ... The Nuggets have been eliminated 4-1 in the first round of the postseason in each of the last four years after failing to make the playoffs for eight straight years. ... The teams are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since Los Angeles swept Denver 3-0 in the first round 21 years ago. The Lakers also eliminated the Nuggets 2-1 in a Western Conference mini-series in 1979 and 4-1 in the conference finals in 1985.