Gasol had a career playoff-high 36 points along with 16 rebounds and eight assists as the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers ran away from the visiting Denver Nuggets 128-114 on Sunday in the opener of their Western Conference series.
"It feels amazing, I had a blast out there," said Gasol, who made 14-of-20 field goals in 44 minutes. "I'm happy with the win and I hope there's many more to come."
Before joining the Lakers on February 1, Gasol had been 0-12 in post-season play, when the Memphis Grizzlies were swept all three times. However, the versatile seven-foot centre got the monkey off his back with an assortment of close range baskets, largely due to the Nuggets' concern over leading MVP candidate and top gun Kobe Bryant.
"They were so worried about Kobe, they collapsed a little too much on him," Gasol explained. "Once we moved the ball and attacked the paint, I just tried to be in the right spot."
Foul-plagued Bryant scored 28 of his 32 points after intermission when the Lakers pulled away. Lamar Odom had 17 points with 14 rebounds while Luke Walton chipped in with 16 points off the bench.
"We won the game by double digits but we're not completely pleased with the way we played," said Bryant, who hit just nine-of-26 floor shots. "Now we move on to Game Two. It's going to pose its own set of challenges that we'll have to figure out."
The Lakers entertain the Nuggets in Game Two on Wednesday night before heading to Denver for the next two contests in the best-of- seven series.
Carmelo Anthony topped the eighth-seeded Nuggets with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Allen Iverson scored 30 as well before getting ejected following two technical fouls with 2:10 left. Linas Kleiza added a career playoff high with 23 points.
"Every playoff series tells a story and tonight was the first chapter," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We have two days to put some pieces together. I don't think anybody in our locker room is deflated. We know we can play better than we did and defence is the first thing we'll address."
Though Bryant scored a mere four points, the Lakers still led 58-56 at halftime behind 18 from Gasol before taking control.
Gasol tallied 16 points and Bryant netted 10 as the Lakers outscored their guests 39-22 to open up a 97-78 cushion heading into the final quarter.
"Once they made their run we expected them to go on, we just couldn't get back," Iverson said.
The Nuggets opened on a 13-4 run to pull within 101-91 on J.R. Smith's three-point play with 8:17 remaining. But Bryant erupted for 18 of the team's next 21 points and the Lakers coasted to the win.
Elsewhere: Philadelphia 76ers 90, Detroit Pistons 86 Andre Miller scored 20 points and Willie Green had 17 as the heavily-underdog 76ers surprised the second-seeded Pistons in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Andre Iguodala finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the seventh-seeded Sixers, who outscored their hosts 52-35 in the second half to steal away home-court advantage.
The Sixers wiped out a 15-point third-quarter deficit and led 88-86 after Igoudala made one-of-two free throws with 11 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout, Rasheed Wallace missed a short jumper that would have knotted the game. Iguodala grabbed the miss and made both free throws with seven ticks left to ice the win.
Wallace topped the Pistons with 24 points, nine rebounds and franchise playoff record-tying seven blocks.
Detroit will host Game Two on Wednesday night.
Orlando Magic 114, Toronto Raptors 100 Dwight Howard scored six of his 25 points in a key 10-0 fourth-quarter run, grabbed 22 rebounds and blocked five blocked as the Magic held off the visiting Raptors in Game One of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Magic raced to a 24-point second-quarter lead that was sliced to 88-83 on Jason Kapono's three-pointer with 10:24 remaining.
However, after Hedo Turkoglu hit a jumper, Howard powered in for three straight baskets. Jameer Nelson's layup capped the burst and opened up a 98-83 cushion with 7:30 remaining as the Magic pulled away.
Nelson scored 24 points and Turkoglu added 21 for third-seeded Orlando, which earned its first post-season win since 2003.
Anthony Parker led sixth-seeded Toronto with 24 points while Chris Bosh had 21 and Kapono collected 18 off the bench.
Orlando will host Game Two on Tuesday night.
Boston Celtics 104, Atlanta Hawks 81 Ray Allen scored 12 of his 18 points in a decisive third-quarter and the top-seeded Celtics pulled away to beat the visiting Hawks in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce added 16 points while Rajon Rondo had 15 with nine assists as Boston outscored the eighth seeds 24-15, in the third period, extending a nine-point halftime lead to 73-55.
Al Horford had 20 points with 10 rebounds while Joe Johnson added 19 points for Atlanta, making its first post-season appearance since 1999.
Boston will host Game Two on Wednesday night.
By Paul Levine, dpa