It’s just not something a coach can teach his players. Resolve is gained through experience. A team that has the resolve to grind out games in the Conference Finals is a team that has gone through all of the highs and lows that the NBA Postseason has to offer. During the course of the previous three post seasons, this Lakers team suffered an NBA Finals defeat, fought through a grueling, seven game series against the scrappy Houston Rockets and had to regain their championship swagger against a young, upstart Oklahoma City basketball team. When the Suns came roaring back to tie the game at 90 at the end of the third quarter the Lakers were put in a position where they would have to show a title defense resolve that they hadn’t shown yet this postseason.
To open up the fourth quarter, the Lakers went on a 16-5 run to open up the fourth on the strength of Jordan Farmar’s jump shot and the Lakers athletic forwards. Farmar hit two threes, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol got to the rim off of Kobe Bryant passes and even the passive Bryant hit a nice 10 footer a the end of the run, forcing Alvin Gentry to call a timeout. From that point, the game was never in question; the only thing unanswered was the final score.
It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown to combine four for four from behind the three-point arch. It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Lamar Odom to record his second straight double-double. It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Pau Gasol to take over the game in the fourth quarter and Kobe Bryant to become a playmaker when double teams were thrown at him. Right now, the Lakers are playing like they have a championship on the back of their collective minds.
The Phoenix Suns went into Game 2 with the mindset that they weren’t going to let Kobe beat them with his shot. So, on the night were his streak of six straight games with at least 30 points came to an end, he recorded more assist in a playoff game than he had in his illustrious career. The majority of his 13 assist came off of making the right pass when double teams came to prevent him from scoring. Kobe patiently accepted each double team and made passes to cutting big men or passes to wide open shooters on the parameter.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were able to pick up the scoring that Kobe literally passed up. Gasol finished with 29 and nine while Odom finished with 17 and 11 with a brilliant display of interior passing between themselves. The Lakers adjusted to the Suns double team with running high S&Rs with Kobe and either Gasol or Odom. Kobe hit the cutter, who was either able to finish at the rim, or found the other big when the defense rotated to the cutter. When the Lakers are running on all cylinders like that, they’re tough to beat.
The Suns made their third quarter run on the strength of Jason Richardson and Grant Hill, who combined for every point scored in the first six minutes of the quarter and 26 of their 34 points in the quarter. Richardson and Hill scored 27 and 23 points, respectively. Steve Nash finished with 11 points and 15 assists while Amare Stoudemire finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Jarred Dudley came off of the bench and gave them much more offensive firepower than he did in Game 1, shooting a perfect five for five from behind the arch.
Darius wrote about how well the bench has played as of late, and the trend continued in Game 2, out scoring the Suns bench 36-26. Both Brown and Farmar had those frustrating moments that we’ve grown accustomed to, but for the most part, I thought they played within themselves. Derek Fisher has done a great job against the Suns S&R offense. His propensity to fight through screens has really disrupted the things that Nash likes to do.
Last but not least, we have to be impressed with Kobe’s fourth quarter performance. In earlier years, a less mature Bryant would have been itching to play hero and take over the game on his own terms. What he didn’t know before is that him accepting the double team and finding the open man is taking over the game on his own terms. He was still able to dictate the outcome of the game with his play while allowing Gasol and Odom to get their numbers, too. It was a great team performance, and something they’re definitely going to bring with them to Phoenix as the Suns are a much better team at home than they are on the road. The Lakers will have a few days off before their Sunday night game in Arizona.