A Win Worth Celebrating

Kurt —  February 21, 2008

First things first — there have been issues with the site for the last 12 hours or so. Apparently this has something to do with an “upstream service DNS migration,” whatever that means. I followed the instructions from my host and apparently everything should be solved. If by this afternoon people are still having issues, let me know and I’ll… um, I don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll have a beer while I do it. And try to fix it.

Last night’s win over the Suns was about all you could ask from a regular season game — entertaining, playoff atmosphere, and at the end of the day I still think the Suns cannot beat us in a seven-game series (providing we are healthy). I think Carter Blanchard summed it up:

Such a good win. On the road, on the wrong end of a back-to-back, against one of the best teams in the L riding the emotional high of the Shaq trade. Anyone else feel like we took their best shot (huge game from Amare, great Nash/Hill games, solid Shaq game, hard to expect much more) and just weren’t fazed. We’ve had a ton of thrilling wins, but tonight’s might have been the most significant thus far.

Plus, the areas where the Suns really hurt the Lakers — on the boards and in the paint — get a lot better for the Lakers when Bynum gets back. Sure, the Suns will get better but we match up well with them.

And this team is fun. So fun that let’s relive the last 7 minutes or so. Not that all of it is filled with insight, but I had so much fun writing it that I’m just going to run it all anyway.

We join the game after Strawberry made a bid to knock off Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor Kobe has just got called for charging into DJ Strawberry and the Suns have the ball.

7:41, 105-103: Early in the clock Stoudemire comes out five feet past the three-point line to run the ultra-high pick and roll with Barbosa, the Lakers defend it poorly with Farmar trying to go over the top and Pau laying back, so Barbosa gets up a fierce head of steam around the pick and toward the basket. Gasol tries to slide with him but Fisher trails Stoudemire, so Barbosa passes to the rolling Amare at the free throw line. It’s pretty obvious what is coming but Turiaf is slow to rotate, the result is the dunk and the harm. He hits the free throw.

Odom and Gasol enter the game.

7:26 105-106. The Lakers got out of the offense a lot in this game, which worked because Kobe was hot. This time they run the offense and the result is Sasha and Gasol playing the little two-man hand-off game on the weak (this time left) side. Gasol gets the ball out 18 feet and gives it to Sasha cutting past him, and Sasha decides to show he can do more than drain threes. He drives into the land of the trees and hits a little running layup falling away from the basket.

7:01 107-106. Just over the half court line Farmar comes out and pressures Barbosa with the ball. Barbosa tries to impress the women in Brazil with his soccer skills — he dribbles the ball off his foot, into the back court for a turnover. Suddenly, Steve Nash is up off the bench and at the scorer’s table.

The Lakers run the offense for 10 seconds on the out of bounds, but Kobe has that look tonight and Strawberry isn’t scaring him much. Kobe gets an isolation out top, drives to the right elbow, pulls up on a dime and nails the jumper.

6: 35, 109-106. Amare comes out to run the high pick and roll with Nash, Odom doesn’t show but stays back to protect the paint. Nash drives in and is below the free throw line by the time anyone bothers to pick him up. Not only does Odom help, but also Gasol rotates over to stop the shot. Gasol leaves Shaq to do that. Alley-oop and dunk. And the crowd goes wild.

6:25, 109-108. The Lakers patiently go through the motions of the offense – inside to Gasol, back out to Kobe – but Kobe’s going to shoot. Everybody knows it. He has the ball two feet behind the three-point line, Strawberry is back a step to defend the drive, Kobe shoots over him. Drains it. Mike D’Antoni says something under his breath about the pinky being a ruse.

6:02, 112-108. Again (and always) it’s Amare and Nash in the high pick-and-roll, but this time the Lakers defend it better. Farmar does a much better job fighting over the top of the pick and staying with Nash. Sasha flashes from the weak side to slow Nash, Odom does a much better job taking away Nash’s passing lanes. The result is what you want – Nash shooting, and it’s a little three-foot runner and it’s contested. He misses it.

Odom grabs to miss and outlets to Kobe, who jogs it up the court. But Gasol had some rest, he felt good, so he ran the court and no Sun went with him. Bryant throws it from half court to Gasol who drives in for the dunk and gets fouled by the trailing Amare for the and one.

Then Sasha jumps higher than he has in years to hug Gasol. He must have shown off an 8-inch vertical on that one.

And we go to commercial and an ESPN SportsCenter promo. Hey, Duke lost. That usually makes me smile, but when it’s to the University of Miami I don’t know how to feel.

115-108, 5:43. They don’t run set plays much, but the Suns almost run a motion offense here, with some nice action, the result being Stoudemire trying to drive on Gasol from the free throw line, he gets off a contested layup that Odom blocks. Right into the hands of Shaq. He can still dunk with authority.

115-110, 5:20: Fisher and Kobe pass the ball out top, then Kobe makes a pretty quick pass to Odom flashing through the lane. Amare isn’t lost though, he trails Odom from the weak side and rejects the layup. Odom grabs the ball but travels.

Nash does his Nash thing, holding the dribble and probing the defense, but the Lakers do a good job and there are no real options. So a quick pass to Grant Hill and he feeds the ball to Shaq on the low block with Gasol on him. Shaq spins back into the lane and hits a nice little 8 footer. Nice shot. I’d make him do it a bunch more times before I’d send the double, however.

115-112, 4:45. Kobe and Fisher try a little high pick and roll but nothing develops, then the Lakers run through some more offense but nothing is good there either as they work the ball around. So with the clock running down it is the old bailout of Kobe with a 20-foot jumper, he misses.

Nash pushes the ball, well maybe at half speed for him but pretty quickly. Shaq decides to do the Shaq of 2000 thing — run down the court and get a deep position before the defense gets set. Nash sees it and gets him the ball quickly just three feet from the hoop. Shaq takes a pretty little right-handed jump hook, but Kobe comes and blocks it from the weak side. Goaltending. Pretty close in my book, but close enough to argue either way.

115-114, 4:14. Kobe has the ball out high and drives around Bell but never really loses him. Shaq comes over from the weak-side and in getting his arms up to block Kobe’s shot he gives a vicious elbow to the back of Bell’s head. That really looked like it hurt. I’m sure Bell will be fine, but I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Oh, and Kobe hit the shot.

117-114, 3:55. Guess what, Suns tried the high pick and roll with Amare and Nash. Fisher is in the game now and he goes under the pick, so Nash steps back for the three, and misses, but Shaq gets the rebound over Gasol and is fouled going back up.

This is why I said yesterday that Shaq will help the usually weak Suns rebounding. Yes, Marion had more boards per game, but Shaq takes up a lot more space under the basket. You have to body him. He opens up space for others. And, Marion never would have gotten a rebound like that over Pau.

Of course, Marion likely would have hit both free throws. Shaq hit one.

117-115, 3:40. The Lakers run the offense, staring with the two man game out high with Kobe and Fish while Sasha is going from one side to the other around Odom’s down screen on the block. The result is Sasha gets a very good look from 18. He just misses it.

This time Shaq, trailing the play after Nash pushed the ball, sets a drag screen, then rolls to the basket. The Lakers mostly roll to Nash, so he goes for the alley-oop to Shaq. But Kobe has seen this “lob to Shaq for a big dunk late in a game” thing before somewhere. (Can’t think of where off the top of my head, maybe we should ask Henry Abbott.) Kobe reads it and comes from the weak side and knocks the pass away. The end result of a little scramble is a Shaq/Gasol jump ball.

I’m with Hubie on this one, it looked to me like Gasol knocked the ball out of bounds, but they call it out off Shaq on the jump ball.

The Lakers first play is isolation Kobe, and he gets into the lane but a rotating Grant Hill knocks the ball out of bounds. After a time out the Lakers came up with a very creative play — Kobe isolation. He hits the midrange over Hill.

119-115, 2:49. For the first time I can remember in the game, the Suns run the double high post look, with Shaq on one side and Amare on the other. Nobody is clear what to do, and the Lakers are playing tight, dogged defense. The result is Barbosa trying to create his own shot, taking a contested 17-footer and missing.

Kobe isolation. Kobe pull-up jumper. Kobe misses.

The Suns first attempt is the high pick and roll early in the clock, Nash drives and the Lakers take away the bounce pass to the cutting Amare. The result is confusion for the Suns, eventually with the ball going out of bounds off Sasha’s foot. On the inbounds play, Fisher fouls Nash from behind, the Lakers are in the penalty and he hits both.

119-117, 1:49. Kobe is asking for the ball and isolation, but Fisher is going to run the offense, damnit. Fisher drives off the high screen from Pau (Gasol can’t get open because Nash is waterskiing behind him off his jersey) and tries a floater over Shaq that misses but Hill knocks it out of bounds.

On the inbounds play Gasol gets the ball out along the left baseline and just drives the lane on Shaq, who goes flying backwards but gets called for blocking. That bit of acting by Shaq was worse than Kazaam — no way Gasol can knock Shaq over like that. The Lakers get the ball out on the side again.

Odom inbounds the ball from the side to Gasol on the block, then cuts straight past him to the rim. Amare is slow to react. Gasol gets the ball back to Odom, who hits a tough little falling layup.

121-117, 1:27. Shaq and Nash in the high pick and roll, the Lakers cover the passing lane and it’s another Nash floater in the lane and another miss. Good defense by the Lakers. The rebound bounces out to Fisher who passes out to a streaking Kobe, and suddenly it’s a three on one with only Hill back. Kobe gives it back to Gasol for the dunk. Love the way Gasol ran the court late in the game.

123-117, 1:15. This time it’s Amare’s turn to be out high with Nash. Odom tries to play the passing lanes but Nash makes a nifty bounce pass at the top of the key to Amare who drives hard to the basket. But Gasol read this the entire way and was waiting at the basket when Amare was still at the free throw line. Amare tries a running floater/layup over Gasol but misses, and Odom gets the board.

The Lakers take their time setting up the offense and eventually get the ball to Gasol 16-feet out isolated with Shaq. That’s rarified air for Shaq. Gasol tries to put the ball on the floor (something he does pretty well) but losses control. The ball bounces free and Shaq dives after it, chop blocking Gasol in the process. That’s 15 yards and two free throws for Gasol, who hits them both.

With just 45 seconds left, the Lakers give a lot of concession baskets to the Suns, the Suns in turn foul the Lakers (although they let 20 second run off at one point, which was an odd choice). Bottom line, the game was over.