In the second quarter, the Lakers started playing like a desperate team, and washed in with that wave of desperation was hustle and honest-to-goodness pick-and-roll defense. Back for three quarters were the Lakers from last December, the team other squads didn’t want to see come playoff time.
Keying the 21-9 second quarter run that got things started was the defense â€” particularly from Shammond Williams and Kwame Brown. Not coincidentally, those two finished the game with the two best +/- numbers on the team, Shammond +12 and Kwame +9.
But the Lakers did it as a team. The passing, particularly the interior passing, that made this team fun to watch earlier this season was back with a vengeance. So was sticking to the plan of pounding the Suns physically, getting the ball inside on offence and crashing the glass â€” 18 offensive rebounds.
And the Lakers were toughest when it mattered most, holding the Suns to 30% shooting in the fourth quarter.
Because itâ€™s fun, letâ€™s break down the last three minutes of the game (3:09 to be precise). We pick up the action with the Lakers up 89-86 and with the ball:
â€¢ Shammond gets a pick-and-roll screen out high at the left wing from Kwame, drives to the top of the key and decides, since Nash is trailing pretty far behind him, to shoot early in the shot clock. He misses. And a year goes off of Phil Jacksonâ€™s life.
â€¢ Fortunately, Nash and Barbosa miscommunication at the other end and Nash throws the ball into the bench. I do my best Nelson Muntz â€œHa-Ha.â€
â€¢ The Lakers are deliberate and work the ball around the top, eventually getting it over to Kobe out at the right high wing, probably his favorite spot on the court. Before he can drive Nash comes over to double (joining Bell), so Kobe makes the smart pass to the open Williams at the top of the three-point arc, but he misses a good-look three.
â€¢ As they have done with success all game the Lakers switch on the Suns high pick-and-roll, meaning Odom is on Nash but now Williams has got Armare in the high post. Nash wisely waits for him to get set then gets to ball to Stoudemire, so Kwame comes over to double. Amare feels the double and passes back out of the post to Nash, who makes a quick skip-pass over to Barbosa in the right corner. Smush actually closed pretty well but a great shot by Barbosa ties the game, 89-89.
â€¢ Now thereâ€™s 1:55 left. Kobe drives and draws the defenders early in the clock, and again has to kick out to an open Williams, who this time passes up the shot and instead gets the ball to Odom on the block. Credit Williams with the smart play, going back to the Lakers biggest strength, and Odom rewards the smart play when hits a nice shot inside around Marion. Now it’s 91-89 Lakers.
â€¢ Stoudemire sets the high pick for Nash and Kwame does a great job hedging out while Smush recovers. Meanwhile Amare goes and sets a down screen for Marion, who then is open at the top of the key, gets the ball and drives the lane. But tonight the Laker defensive rotations are there â€” Kwame and Odom come over to sandwich Marion and it works, he misses. Kwame rebounds.
â€¢ Figuring to give the Suns a little of their own medicine, the Lakers run the high pick and roll twice with Kwame and Kobe, but nothing develops that Kobe likes. So once again he again kicks it to Shammond as the shot clock winds down, but this time drives and gets a blocking foul on Nash. Of course, the TNT announcerâ€™s first reaction is to call it a charge, then corrects himself. We understand. How could â€œtheâ€ Steve Nash ever really foul a guy named Shammond?
â€¢ The second half of the Laker possession starts with an out of bounds play, and the ball going to Smush at the top of the key where he almost pulls up and takes a three â€” you can see him set himself and start to rock, before he thinks, â€œwait, this is the stuff I get yelled at for in film sessions.â€ Instead he gives it to Kobe on a clearout, and he works Bell down the left side then hits the fade away over him before the double arrives. Now itâ€™s 93-89 Lakers and the Suns are the ones getting desperate.
â€¢ Again the high pick and roll with Stoudemire, again Kwame hedges hard but this time Nash gets the ball to the rolling Stoudemire. Amare drives to the post where Odom stands him up, so he hands the ball to Barbosa, who runs around him so Stoudemire can be used as a screen. Barbosa gets into the paint but Kwame rotates well and Barbosa suddenly looks confused â€” he hadnâ€™t seen a Laker defender in his path for two games and now theyâ€™ve been in his face all night. He tries to draw the foul on Kwame with an interesting pirouette and reverse over-the-shoulder shot; Kwame just rejects it.
After that you had the feeling it was over, although the Suns did get a couple better looks at some late threes than I would have liked.
Iâ€™m ready, I bet the Lakers are too. Can we play Sundayâ€™s game now?