As Phillip detailed in the recap, this truly was a team win. Every player that saw court time played well and there were some stand out performances from Pau (29 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks), Kobe (21 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block), and Odom – who was lucky for the second straight game (17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 block).
But one player that deserves some further recognition is Ron Artest. Game 2 was one where Ron really looked comfortable on offense scoring 18 points on only 9 shots and making 3 of his 6 three pointers. His first bucket of the game came on a strong drive to his right hand where jumped, switched hands, and finished with a lefty scoop/finger roll that wasn’t the smoothest looking shot but was impressive nonetheless. Ron added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to a very good line in his 40 minutes of game action.
Plus, he gives a great interview (if someone has the video of Ron’s halftime interview with Craig Sager, please pass it along; Ask and you shall receive! – thanks to commenters everclear and Kaifa). All kidding aside, one thing that Ron did say at the half (after recording 15 points and hitting 3 threes) was that he’s now getting used to defenses playing off of him and leaving him to double Kobe and Pau; that he’s now more comfortable in the offense and isn’t as concerned about taking the shots that are there for him. To me, this is the biggest step that Ron could have taken in this season. Throughout the year, I’ve thought that Ron was almost too deferential to Kobe and that he second guessed way too often considering his talent on offense. By no means was I clamoring for Ron to go into “hero” mode, but I wanted him to trust his game and to shoot the ball without hesitation when he was open. He’s now doing that and the results are much better than what they were for the last part of the season. Also, having that wrap off of his left hand has seemed to help too.
I don’t want to harp too much on any negatives about this game because, honestly, there weren’t many. However, if there was one thing that I noticed it was that the Lakers got a bit too comfortable playing to the Suns’ style and it resulted in this game being closer than it probably needed to be. In the 2nd and 3rd quarters (full disclosure – I missed several minutes of both of these quarters) the Lakers seemed content to play at a faster pace and their offensive and defensive execution suffered because of it. The Lakers went to a P&R heavy offense – which, while effective isn’t necessarily the best way to attack the Suns – and then were lazy with their rotations and close outs on defense (especially our favorite #24). On defense we also didn’t battle as hard in P&R situations and Nash was able to turn the corner more easily and create shots for his mates much better than during any other portion of the game.
Again, I don’t want to harp too much on this as the Suns are a fantastic offensive team and in the rest of the game the Lakers pretty much held them in check (especially in the 4th quarter). But during that middle portion of the game, I sensed that the Lakers relaxed on D and may have gotten into the mindset that they can just out score the Suns. And while this may be true, I’d like for the Lakers to not rely on their offense to win games, but rather their stingy D mixed with their improving-by-the-day offense.
Andy Kamenetzky at Land O’ Lakers: “The fourth quarter defense was often spectacular before and after the game-clinching run as well. The Suns were held to 41.2 percent from the field and connected on just one of seven from downtown after hitting a red hot 52.7 percent during the opening three quarters. There were also six turnovers, which the Lakers converted into nine points.
Throw in the heavy dosage of Gasol and Odom down low during the game’s closing moments and this final quarter was a painful reminder to Phoenix as to why they’re considered the underdog with decreasing odds for an upset.”
Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk: “Yes, Steve Nash was still on the floor. And he is still Steve Nash. But Kobe was taking pages right out of the Nash playbook all night long — including one third-quarter play where he was dribbling near the top of the key, nobody rotated on to Pau Gasol after he set the screen then rolled to the hoop (Amare Stoudemire was losing him a lot in the second half) and Kobe did a one-handed, right-out-of-the-dribble pass to Gasol for the layup. It was the kind of pass Nash does better than anyone in the league. But not Wednesday night.
Nash’s gift is his court sense, his vision. When he probes into the paint — especially off the pick-and-roll — he draws help defenders coming to shut him off. Nash’s ability to recognize where the help came from then make the defense pay by hitting that helper’s man with a pass borders on the supernatural.
Kobe was supernatural himself in this one.”
Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen & Roll: “Yet again Pau Gasol was brilliant. Yet again he’s making a soon-to-be free agent power forward look decidedly powerless. Carlos Boozer was his victim in the second round. Now the honor belongs to Amare Stoudemire, who could not possibly be looking any worse on defense. Pau juked and head-faked his way around Amare for 29 points and five assists. His comrades-in-bigness, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, had similarly trouble-free nights. Together those three combined for 59 points on 43 shots, many or most of those coming within close proximity of the cylinder. Unless the Suns sign Dikembe Mutombo and Alton Lister before Game Three, I’m not sure they have an available solution for this.”
Kevin Ding at The OC Register: “With LeBron James in offseason mode already, courtesy of the Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant has the stage to make his case that he still has a case in the best-player-in-the-game discussion.
One game after Bryant joined Michael Jordan as the only players to have games of at least 40 points in five consecutive postseasons, Bryant had a career-playoff-high 13 assists. Breaking a tie to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers won by a 124-112 count and moved to a 2-0 Western Conference finals lead over the Phoenix Suns.”
Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie: “I don’t have any answers for Phoenix, outside of better defense for Amar’e, more shots for Nash, and home cooking. I don’t see any real matchup or rotation changes that could swing things in their favor, going bigger or smaller, but am willing to concede that there might be something that could surprise a coasting Laker squad for a half or two.
Los Angeles is just too good. Too great. This is the team that could have won 70, had the injuries gone away, and the heads stayed in the right places. Instead, the Lakers played pound-foolish basketball for most of the season that, with the team finishing with just 57 wins, didn’t really result in a whole lot of wised-up pennies, either.
Those days are over, though. The Lakers are on it, focused, trusting, patient, and potent. God help us all.”
Kevin Arnovitz at TrueHoop (with video): “When Kobe Bryant fully integrates himself into his team’s offense, the Los Angeles Lakers are the most elegant outfit in the NBA. Bryant can perform both as scorer and facilitator, contrary to the false distinction that’s sometimes drawn between these two functions. Bryant’s best formula for success is applying one role in service of the other, something he did brilliantly in Game 2 against Phoenix on Wednesday night. ”
Zach Harper at Hardwood Paroxysm: “Now that Phil Jackson and Kobe have been able to integrate Gasol into the system all while winning a championship and letting him earn some true playoff chops, we’re all starting to see the fallout of this trade. Pau Gasol has simply become the best big man in the game today.
Yes, there are plenty of cases to be had for Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, and of course Johan Petro (insert Matt Moore joke about Greg Oden here too while you’re at it). And all of those guys are really good. Dirk is a wiz on the offensive end of the floor. KG and Duncan still have a lot left in the tank as they adapt to injuries and old age. Dwight Howard is getting better all the time while filling the role as best defensive big man in the league. But Pau Gasol has the ability to truly dominate in the playoffs game after game after game.”
Justin DeFeo at Sir Charles in Charge (with video): “Many have said Pau Gasol is the “most skilled big man in the NBA” so I decided to take a closer look. As you watch the video, keep in mind that as you’re watching Gasol get up and down the court, hit cutters on a dime, shoot fall aways and generally move about the court effortlessly, that Gasol does all this inside a 7-0, 250 lbs body. An amazing thing to consider when you see him do some of the things he does. Take a look.”
Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles: ”Now it’s time to compare him to Ariza after his 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting in Wednesday’s 124-112 Game 3 victory. After his three made 3-pointers. After his five rebounds, three assists and two steals, including one in the fourth quarter when the Suns were threatening and cut the Lakers’ lead back down to single digits.
It’s time not only to compare the two but also to admit that Artest just might be the better fit…
Artest put Kevin Durant in a straightjacket in the first round versus the Thunder and guarded everybody from Deron Williams to Carlos Boozer in the second round versus the Jazz. Now that he’s playing supremely both ways against the Suns, how can you not consider him to at least be Ariza’s equal?”