Coming into the WCF, few would have argued that the Suns bench was a much better group than the Lakers bench. And while one game does not make a season nor does it erase the poor play that has been littered throughout this years’ campaign, the Lakers bench came to play last night and it was a major key in the rout of the Suns. The Lakers bench out scored, out rebounded, out assisted, and had fewer turnovers than the highly praised bench of the Suns. After the game, Shannon Brown admitted that the constant reminder of the Suns’ superior second unit served as motivation for the Lakers reserves and they came into game 1 wanting to show that they had some game as well. Mission accomplished.
I know what everyone is thinking (I know, because I can read minds) – “this group doesn’t deserve recognition after one good game”. And that sentiment is correct. So, I decided to look into the stats for these guys and compare those numbers with how I recall them playing for the past several games and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s been more than just one game. The bench has actually been playing decent to very good ball for a little while now.
I mean, did you realize that dating back to game 5 of the OKC series (7 games) Jordan Farmar has made 9 of his last 16 three point attempts (56%)? That in that same period he’s only had 4 turnovers in comparison to 11 assists? That for the playoffs he’s 8-11 from the foul line (73%) which is up from his regular season mark of 67%. I know these aren’t dynamic numbers and that the sample size is small, but for a player that we’ve skewered for his forcing of the action, he’s played relatively under control recently and is doing most of the things that we ask of him (now if we could see a bit of an improvement on defense). For the first time in weeks, Farmar actually seems comfortable and focused on the task at hand. Whether or not this lasts remains to be seen, but for the heat that Jordan has taken (especially from me), I think it should be pointed out that he seems quite intent on helping this team win another title. And considering his importance to the team, I’m very happy to see him start to raise his level of play.
And what about Shannon? Since that same game 5 of the OKC series he’s made 6-11 from downtown. In 4 of his last 6 games he’s shot 50% or better. His overall play has been markedly improved as he’s been more patient on offense, making the extra pass more often than not. Plus, he’s back to making those crowd pleasing plays that get the paying customers on their feet and his bench mates excited. Those are the types of plays that shift momentum and give your team an advantage. I mean, when he tried to victimize J-Rich, did you see his teammates’ reactions? Look at the video and look at the crowd; look at Suns’ assistant Dan Majerle look to the jumbo-tron as the teams break for their timeout. What we’ve seen from Shannon recently is the mix of athleticism and playing within himself that we were hoping for during the regular season. Simply put playoff Shannon > regular season Shannon.
And then there’s Odom. Yes it’s taken a bit longer than expected for him to have on of his signature “wow, he’s really good” games. I know many thought (including me) that this type of game would come versus the Jazz. But, the fact of the matter is that he had a big game when his team needed it the most. It will be forgotten when you look at Kobe’s line or just marvel at LO’s box score, but when he came in the game last night the Lakers were losing 20-15. Then from the time that he entered the game to the end of the first period the Lakers outscored the Suns 20-9 and never looked back. Odom changed that game last night even more than Kobe’s terrific third quarter did. Plus, Odom’s been the leader for the Lakers second unit. He’s been the player that has told his mates that they need to play better. He’s been the one that has offered criticism of this group so guys like Kobe or Fish or even Phil hasn’t had to say as much. When you listen to the other guys talk about Odom they all understand how important he is to the team and what he brings to the group to help make them successful.
However, with this praise comes a higher expectation that they will continue this level of play. We all understand that this series is not over and in order for the Lakers to prevail, the bench will need to continue to pull its weight. So, with that in mind I hope to see that continued commitment to controlled aggression and the running of our sets. If Farmar and Shannon can control the game from the back court and not force the action it will go a long way towards winning this series. They’re likely to continue to be matched up with Dragic and Barbosa and if they can play that Suns duo to a draw they would have more than done their jobs. And from Odom, I hope to see him continue in his current attack mindset. Even more so than the Utah series (where he was mostly matched up with Millsap), there is no one in this series that can really guard Odom effectively. If he’s working off the dribble and then attacking the glass he can be the third most important Laker in this series and be a catalyst for a series win. Here’s hoping this group keeps up their recent good play. ‘Cause if they do, the Suns will be hard pressed to win more than a game in this series.