Archives For May 2010

Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol scores on Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire in the third quarter during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix

During the course of the past four days, everyone put in a position to make a criticism about Amare Stoudemire’s in the first two games of this series added their two cents. There was reason for the basketball world to jump on Stoudemire’s case. He was a revolving door on the defensive end of the floor and couldn’t grab a rebound to save his life. In Game 3, Stoudemire proved why the Phoenix Suns were so tough to beat during the second half of the season as he tied his playoff career high in points (42) while grabbing 11 rebounds in the Suns’ 118-109 win over the Lakers.

Stoudemire was aggressive early and often, getting to the free throw line on four of the Suns first nine possessions, keeping both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom in foul trouble for most of the game. His jump shot was falling, he repeatedly beat Pau Gasol off the dribble and was finishing shots around the rim that weren’t falling in Games 1 and 2. Steve Nash was finally able to find some passing lanes to feed Stoudemire and the like off of those coveted screen and rolls that they used to move past Portland and San Antonio through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Stoudemire’s improved play seemingly opened things up for Robin Lopez who finished with an admirable 20 points, shooting 80 percent from the field, hitting the wide open jumpers he was getting from defenders helping off of Stoudemire and finishing strong around the rim.

The Suns ability to get their S&R going helped them live at the free throw line as they shot 42 free throws, making 37 of them while the Lakers were only 16 for 20 from the line. The Suns were consistent in their attack of the rim while the Lakers sat around the parameter and hoped for three pointers to fall. Many will look at the 22 free throw attempt difference and claim that the officials were unfair in the way that they called Game 3, but as Snoopy2006 pointed out in the Preview and Chat comments, the discrepancy had everything to do with both teams propensity to attack the rim:

Guys, the FT difference was because of the way we played. We didn’t attack the zone, we stayed out on the perimeter and forced jumpers. We weren’t playing 5v8, we were playing some passive 5v5.

In the first half, when Kobe didn’t go to the line? He was taking (and making) all midrange or long jumpers. When he started attacking near the end of the game, he got to the line.

Let’s keep the whining about the refs to a minimum. Sometimes, it’s warranted. But you can’t just look at the FTAs and say “Look! The refs hate us!” We didn’t attack hearly as much as the Suns did. There were a few times when Amare was hit on a FG and I thought he could have gotten an and-1 after watching the replay. The Suns earned those FTs, and we earned our trips to the FT line.

The fact of the matter is that the Suns made a great adjustment on the defensive end of the floor. Moving to their zone in the second quarter really stifled the Lakers offense. The Suns first showed the zone against the Lakers reserves who failed to produce any kind of offense. Phil Jackson brought in Kobe and Gasol but still failed to see the results that he would have liked as the Lakers finished the second quarter with just 15 points. The Lakers looked to be solving the puzzle that the zone presented in the third, but you could tell that they were never really comfortable as a unit attacking the 2-3.

While playing against the Suns man-to-man defense, the Lakers shot 56.6 percent from the field. That shooting percentage dropped to a lowly 31 percent versus the zone. More importantly, their turnovers per 100 possessions rose from 12.7 to 21.4 when the Suns moved from the man to the zone (all stats from ESPN Stats and Information). The Lakers finished with 17 very costly turnovers and the Suns turned those turnovers into 11 points. In Games 1 and 2, the Lakers dominated the turnover battle, in Game 3, their high turnover rate was a huge factor in deciding the game. After a Lamar Odom free throw gave the Lakers a 90-89 lead, the Lakers turned the ball over three times in the next minute and a half, completely swinging the momentum and the Lakers were never within six after that.

What was just as turning the ball over was the number of three pointers that he Lakers took. They took 32 from long range, their most since their first loss of the postseason when they shot 31 in Game 3 against Oklahoma City. Again, those long shots lead to long rebounds, which create transition opportunities for a team that likes to run as much as the Suns do. The Suns had 18 fast break points in Game 3 compared to just 20 in the first two games combined.

Kobe finished with a near triple double, just needing one more rebound to be added to his 36 points and 11 assists. Gasol had a solid 23 and nine and Derek Fisher added an unexpected 18 points, but the Lakers just didn’t get enough from Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. Bynum only played eight foul plagued minutes while Odom didn’t really come alive until mid way through the third quarter. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, as expected, didn’t have the same effect off of the bench as they did in the first two games combining for only eight points and four turnovers.

In the end, you just have to credit Alvin Gentry for making the right adjustment and rolling with it, however, I don’t see this working for the remainder of the series. The Suns had to play a near perfect game to pull out a game that was within reach until a few ridiculous turnovers midway through the fourth. Stoudemire is not going to average 40 nor is Robin Lopez going to average 20 for the remainder of this series. The Suns still aren’t getting much from the bench that was supposed to be a major advantage over the Lakers reserves (is Channing Frye going to hit another shot?). I think Phil Jackson will make the right adjustments in the way they attack the Suns zone defense. Game 4 is going to be interesting to say the least. Hopefully there will be a lot less attention being paid to the Celtics and more focus on their current opponents. More respect for the Suns from the Lakers organization is in line after tonight. Game 4 will be on Tuesday at 6 p.m. PST on TNT.

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Game 3 will be a test for the Lakers.

I understand that Phoenix has looked completely overmatched for the first two games.  However, home cooking does wonders for a team and with the third installment of this series slated for the valley of the sun, Phoenix will bring their best effort in order to try and get back into the WCF.  They know that a loss today essentially ends their 2010 playoff run and that will be a major motivating factor in them playing their best basketball in order to stay alive.

The one area that we can expect improvement from the Suns is in their bench production.  In the first two games, to nearly everyone’s surprise, the Lakers bench has outplayed their counterparts from Phoenix.  Odom, Farmar, and Brown have just been plain better than Frye, Barbosa, Dragic, Dudley, and Amundson.  However, as the old axiom states, role players play better at home and an uptick in production from the Suns’ reserves is nearly a given.  That means that the Lakers’ bench will need to continue their strong play from the first two games and match the drive of the Suns while also bringing a level of execution that can allow them to keep pace with (or better yet, outdistance) the high octane attack of Phoenix’s back ups.

But, this game will be about more than just the respective benches from each team.  We’re also likely to see a continuation of the adjustments that Phoenix began in game 2.

First and foremost, that means a defensive strategy that the Suns can lean on to slow the Lakers attack.  As we’ve discussed the Suns still have not found reliable options to slow either Kobe or Gasol.  However, that does not mean that they won’t continue to try.  To that end, I think we’ll see the Suns try to single cover Kobe and double team Gasol as much as possible.  From Phoenix’s perspective, Kobe’s game 1 can be looked at as a bit of a fluke.  He made an obscenely high rate of his outside jumpers and did so against solid defense from Hill and Dudley.  From my perspective, a lot of the shots that Kobe made in that first game you can live with him taking (you just have to hope he doesn’t make as many).  What the Suns can’t live with is Kobe controlling the game with his play making as he did in game two.  If’ Kobe is allowed to score 20+ points while racking up double digit assists the Suns are sure to lose.  Today I expect to see the Suns make Kobe go for 40 points and carry the offensive load.  If he can do it, good on him, but he’s going to have to prove it today.

As for Gasol, I think double teaming him in a variety of ways is the only way that the Suns can slow him down.  While fronting the post or denying passes with the half-front are decent techniques, Pau is simply killing Phoenix whenever he makes the catch.  At this point, I they’ll need to try and force Pau to be less a factor by taking the ball out of his hands.  Remember, Pau is almost too unselfish in that he’s always looking for the right play.  When being single covered by players that can’t guard him (Amar’e and Frye), Pau’s best option is too attack those players and get his buckets.  However, if the double team comes he will not force the action and will make the correct pass to the open player.  If you’re the Suns, making Pau a passer and players like Fisher and Artest scorers is still your best option.  So, from a Lakers’ perspective, today is a day where we’ll need the complimentary scorers to make shots in order to disrupt the best laid plans of the Suns.

On defense, the Lakers must continue to do what they’ve been doing in the first two games in order to disrupt the Suns P&R.  In game 2, the Suns made a subtle adjustment early in the game where they ran much more of their P&R’s to the sideline in order to free Nash up along the baseline.  This led to early buckets by both Lopez and Amar’e as the Lakers bigs were caught in the middle of no man’s land between helping on Nash and recovering to their own man.  I expect to see the Suns run more of this action rather than the standard P&R that is run to the middle of the floor.  In order to slow down this action, the Lakers must collapse harder from the top (to crowd the paint and disrupt interior passes) while also blitzing Nash with the length of our bigs to cut down his passing angles to the perimeter while also making it more difficult for him to take his own shot.

The other wrinkle the Lakers must be prepared for is the Suns’ small lineup with Dudley playing PF.  The Suns made their only sustained run of the game with this undersized group as they were able to successfully space the floor and open up driving lanes off their P&R sets.  These open lanes collapsed the Lakers defense and made it so Richardson, Hill, and Dudley got open shots that they knocked down.  When the Suns go to this line up tonight, all I hope to see is a greater effort from the Lakers defense to recover to shooters and contest shots.  Most of the Suns’ made baskets came with no Laker within 3 steps of the offensive player and those guys are too good of shooters to leave that open.  So, if the Lakers can recover and chase the Suns’ shooters off of their spot and make them dribble before they shoot I’ll be happy.  All I’m looking for is a disruption of rhythm.

In the past, the Lakers have not been the best performers in game 3’s.  They seemingly got over that hump by winning the third game of the Jazz series, but that game was a one point victory where the Lakers dodged two bullets at the end to secure the win.  Against an offensive team as capable as the Suns, it’s tough to imagine the Lakers being that lucky if a similar situation arises.  That means the Lakers must be ready to bring a level of execution and focus that they have only had to show sparingly in the first two games (the first 4 minutes of game 2’s 4th quarter, for example).  If the Lakers can bring that quality of play, I like their chances tonight and moving forward in this series (and beyond).  And speaking of beyond, I understand the want to look ahead.  Boston is now up 3-0 and look to be the East representative in the Finals.  That said, the task at hand for the Lakers is the Phoenix Suns.  So, like a good point guard, it’s good that the Lakers can see the entire floor and understand where all the pieces lie.  But the immediate concern is not the player in your peripheral vision, it’s the one that is standing right in front of you.  Beat that player and you’ve got a lay up.  Pay too much attention to the player that is coming from the side and you pick up an offensive foul.  Keep your eyes on the guy at the rim fellas and the rest will take care of itself.

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I’m not like Marc Stein or Steve Nash (who seem fanatical) or even Bill Simmons in my fútbol fandom.  I don’t follow a team in the EPL and don’t have rooting interests in other club teams from around the world.  That said, like many young kids that grew up in America I played plenty of AYSO soccer and have always had a fondness for the beautiful game.

I’ve always seen soccer as having great parallels to basketball as it’s truly a team game where angles and positioning and team work are necessary for success.  Where fundamental play and technique can help just as much as great athleticism, and those with all those qualities are the best players in the world.  Where, despite the flopping or angling for calls, there’s a toughness that’s required to play the sport – even by those that play a “finesse” game.

Why do I bring all this up?  Because I’m legitimately excited for the upcoming World Cup.  Starting on June 11th, the best players put on their national colors and duke it out to stake their claim as the best team in the world.  Much like the Olympics, the every four year build up to the World Cup makes this event one of (if not the) biggest sporting events in the world and I plan to follow it as much as I can.  And as a basketball fan, I know I’m not alone here.  I already mentioned guys like Stein and Nash, but I know there are many, many other hoops lovers (players, media, and fans) that also go nuts over the game that we call soccer. Are you one of those people? Let me know in the comments (and who you’re rooting for).

Oh, and one last reason why I’m looking forward to the World Cup? The fantastic commercials. Nike always puts out some classic spots and this year is no different. Check out the clip below and you’ll even get a little basketball flavor with our own Mr. Bryant. (hat tip to Henry at TrueHoop for passing this along.)


It wasn’t so long ago where Kobe Bryant was struggling to have consecutive nights of high, efficient scoring. There was a definite inconsistency in Kobe’s game that we were unfamiliar with, and it was something that was concerning going into the post season. He would score 28 in one night, then spend the next two nights trying score 28 more. Suffice to say, Kobe spent the majority of the second half of the season looking beat up, and it was painful to watch as he struggled (well, struggled by his terms) to score efficiently. However, we’ve seen a recent burst in Kobe’s scoring, a streak that we haven’t seen from him since the end of December going into early January. I’ve spent a lot of time these past couple of days watching a lot of film of the Lakers recent playoff games and I’ve noticed some things that have contributed to his increase in efficiency.

Contrary to popular belief, scoring explosions don’t materialize out of nothing, there were some other factors that led to Kobe dropping 30 in six straight games, and one of those factors was the two games before his first 30-point game. In Games 4 and 5, Kobe was in his “facilitator mode” making all of the right passes, getting his teammates involved, taking as little shots as possible. Both of those games were blowouts, the Lakers getting blown out in the first and them blowing out the Thunder in the second. The only difference in the games was the fact that other guys were making shots. Kobe finished with 12 and 13 points on 10 and nine shots with four and seven assists, respectively. The most important thing was, when Kobe was taking shots, they were going in about 50 percent of the time (nine for 19).

This opened things up for Game 6, his first 30-point game of his streak. Thanks to Synergy Sports, I was able to go back and watch all of his field goal attempts during the course of his six-game streak and noticed that early in the streak, he got A LOT of shots close to the basket. Phil Jackson put Kobe in positions where he would be most successful. There were a lot of high screen and rolls with Pau Gasol forcing defenders to pick their poison. With Gasol playing as well as he has (to be discussed later), the Thunder and the Jazz were forced to pick their poison. When they picked Kobe, he took advantage of it. The same kind of dynamic happened when Kobe was in post up situations. Kobe found himself isolated in the post a lot in those early games in the streak, which is going to be advantage Kobe 80 percent of the time. Take a look at Kobe’s shot locations in his first game of the streak (from


Kobe took 12 of his 25 shots within 10 feet of the basket. Again, he was getting those shots at the rim through the S&R, where he scores in 38% of all such situations and through post ups, where he scores 49.8% of the time in such situations (per Synergy Sports). To put it in perspective, Kobe averaged only 7.2 shots within 10 feet of the rim. Him getting five extra high percentage shots really helped him get going.

It’s not a secret, for a lot of guys in this league, it only takes a couple shots to drop and they can have things going for a whole game. Getting some easy looks early always helps. For a guy like Kobe, getting easy looks throughout a game can get him going for weeks, even for a whole month at a time. We’ve seen this kind of sudden outbreak from Kobe before. In the past, his physical abilities has a lot to do with it, but, much more of it has to do with him figuring certain teams and defenders out. I’ll let Darius take the stage explaining what I mean.

I think the mental part of Kobe’s game is as sharp as ever.  I’ve said this before, but Kobe’s one of the most cerebral players in the game.  He often outthinks opponents and when that mental sharpness is mixed with a physically healthy player, you see the type of results that he’s producing right now.  I mean, Kobe is making the right reads on almost every play.  He’s accepting double teams and making great passes, he’s reading the defense on when to drive and when to shoot his jumper, and he’s directing the offense both when he’s with or without the ball.

A side note to all this is that Kobe’s always been a player that understands not only defensive schemes but the individual defenders that he’s up against.  I remember how players like Doug Christie, Bruce Bowen, and (more recently) Shane Battier were touted as defenders that gave Kobe problems.  But over time he learned how those players wanted to defend him and ultimately found ways to literally destroy them.  I think we saw some of the same things against Sefolosha at the end of the OKC series as Kobe found out where he could get his shots against him and the Thunder to the point that he could have that 30+ point game that really was the difference in that series.  Then as he’s played against lesser defenders from the Jazz and Suns he’s found his groove and is able to dissect those guys with relative ease.  I know in game 2 against Phoenix, Dudley gave Kobe some issues but I would not be surprised if by the end of the WCF, he’s scoring efficiently against him as well.  Like I said earlier, I think his mental game is just too sharp right now and with another title as close as it is, he’s raising his intensity and focus and we’re seeing the results in a better more efficient player.

More than anything else, Kobe getting easy looks and his mental game is what really got him started. Not that he is the kind of guy to shy away from shots when they’re not falling, but he does have a different kind of swagger on the court when he’s scoring high numbers efficiently. He’s always been one of the most confident players in the league, but he does, as all humans do, have different levels of confidence. When Kobe’s confidence rises, it’s almost tangible. You can see it. You can feel it. And nothing rises his confidence more than those two things, however, when it has risen, his outside jump shot. Look at Kobe’s shot locations during the last game of the streak (from


Look at the percentage of his shots from 16 feet in beyond in comparison to what he did in Game 6 against the Thunder. 16 of his 23 shot were jumpers, and he hit better than 55 percent of them. While a lot of this can be attributed to everything that has been mentioned above, there are still a couple more things that can be taken into account, one of them being his health. Again, I’ll let Darius take the floor on this one.

[Kobe’s] finally looking healthy again.  The issues with his knee (and maybe even his ankle) were really hampering his ability to elevate on his jumper and get by defenders off the dribble.  That lack of lift and explosion was hurting his scoring much more than the injured finger, in my opinion.  Folks forget that after he hurt the finger he was still able to shoot the ball well and even had some really big scoring nights where his jumper looked as pure as it ever has.  But after his ankle injury got aggravated when Odom stepped on his foot, his effectiveness was diminished and by the time the reports of his knee bothering him came out he looked like a fraction of the efficient player that he was early in the year.  So, now that he’s seemingly back to full health (or close to it) we’re seeing him play to the level that we’re accustomed to.

Darius saying that Kobe was “still able to shoot the ball well” is really an understatement. The game after he injured his finger, he had 16 points. In the 10 games after that, his lowest scoring output was 28 points, with three 40+ point performances during that time. It really was his ankle and knee injuries that hampered his scoring ability. Kobe taking those games off at the end of the season, and the old legs-sensitive playoff schedule has really been a huge help in terms of Kobe’s health. He’s had a bounce in his step these last few weeks that we really haven’t seen since the first half of the season.

That last factor that has really helped lead to Kobe’s scoring outburst is his teammates. Pau Gasol has been absolutely fantastic this postseason. During Kobe’s streak, Gasol averaged just over 20 points and just over 13 rebounds. Derek Fisher and Ron Artest have both stepped their games up too. Fisher is shooting over 38 percent from behind the arch while Artest is averaging 11.6 points per game during the streak, including two straight games where he scored 15+. However, what’s been the most impressive is the play of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown who have combined for 13 point and a 52 percent mark from three-point range during this streak. Gasol and Lamar Odom have found the chemistry that was featured during the few games that Kobe missed around the All-Star Break and Andrew Bynum has had his moments.

As great as Kobe has been, a lot of the credit has to go to his supporting cast – and this all comes full circle with what I opened up with. That second game of Kobe’s facilitator mode did more than put him in a position to succeed; it really got his teammates going, too. It’s much harder to double-team Kobe when there are two to four more scoring threats on the floor around him, and as we all know, it’s much harder to double team Kobe in one-on-one situations. This presents a Catch-22 for opposing teams, and this was in full display the night Kobe’s streak came to an end. Phoenix decided to send multiple defenders at him and the supporting cast responded. It’s safe to say, with everyone playing this way, defeating this Lakers team is near impossible.

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With a few days off in between games, we’re taking a look around the league and passing along some links to.  Happy Friday.

*As we all know the Lakers are on an 8 game winning streak.  That led me to start thinking about streaks and many have also started to compare this Lakers team to the 2001 team that battled injuries throughout the season and then dominated the playoffs on the way to their 2nd consecutive title.  For me, it’s a bit early for those comparisons, but if the Lakers win the title this year and do so in a convincing manner, I think those comparisons will be apt.  But we’re a ways off from that point and there is still much work to be done.  So, let’s hold off on looking at all time comparisons and focus on the moment, shall we?

*Speaking of the task at hand (Phoenix), the focus in this series has been the Suns defense (or lack there of) and how the Lakers offense has been abusing their schemes.  However, the Lakers offense has actually been on a roll for longer than the last two games and their performance on O has been a major factor of the current 8 game winning streak.  During this recent run of wins, only once have the Lakers scored below 100 points (game 6 vs. OKC) and they have only shot below 50% from the field three times.  During the streak the Lakers have had an offensive efficiency of 119.5 on 60.2% true shooting, compared to a 105.9 mark on 53.8% true shooting during the regular season (per hoopdata).  Those are major steps up in efficiency of late and it’s not all related to facing the Suns.

*I try not to concern myself too much with the things that are said about Phil Jackson’s future with the Lakers.  There are just too many angles to sort out and Phil’s comments to the media on the subject are cryptic at best.  Deciphering what is said and why rarely leads to anything concrete, so I choose not to get caught up in it.  That said, with the recent reports that Phil will be asked to take a pay cut next season, J.A. Adande is wondering if history is going to repeat itself with Jackson and Buss.  Again, this is just more speculation, but I do think this is something to keep in the back of the mind.

*Speaking of coaches, it looks like Philly has a new one.  Welcome back to the sidelines Doug Collins.  I’m going to miss Collins on the TNT broadcasts, but I think he’ll do a good job with the Sixers (getting Evan Turner with the #2 pick won’t hurt either).

*A lot of fans from both teams are starting to look forward to a Lakers/Celtics Finals match up and with both teams having a 2-0 lead in the conference finals, I understand that.  However, understand that both series are far from over despite the stinging nature of both teams first two wins (Lakers blowouts and Celtic road wins).  From the Celtics standpoint, they still have to win their home games – something that is not a given.  Boston went 24-17 at home this regular season (they actually had a better road record) and will need to continue their strong play now that they’re back in their own arena. (hat tip to TrueHoop.)

*When the Lakers acquired Ron Artest there were a variety of thoughts on everyone’s mind.  Some folks are still waiting for what they believe is the inevitable “blow up” from Ron-Ron.  However, Ron’s been mild-mannered and distraction free for nearly the entire season.  I bring this up because there’s an interesting piece on Ron Artest that deserves a read over at ‘Pop Matters’.  An excerpt: “For, much in the same way that Flavor Flav (who also went on to tabloid infamy) projected the persona of a jester to undercut the stern and booming condemnation of Chuck D. in order to make Public Enemy a more palatable, consumable music act, it seems that Artest has mixed enough zaniness into his persona to escape, for the time being, the more menacing image of his past. Such manipulation, whether it indicates a true “con” of the public or not, is not a fine science. It represents instead a sort of alchemy, combining stereotypes, personal background, the randomness of circumstance, and the all-powerful gaze of the sports media.”

*I love classic videos of old school players.  I can’t get enough old highlights or interviews with legends past just to get more insight from other eras.  So, on that note, go check out this classic sit down of Bill Russell interviewing Kareem, Magic, and Silk from 1980 (hat tip to Shoals at FreeDarko).

*And speaking of video’s LD2K is at it again.  After giving us some viewing pleasure in the lead up to the WCF, his latest concoction is an answer to the critics of Kobe Bryant.  Enjoy.

*Lastly, a lot has been made of the “lucky” comments that Amar’e made about Lamar Odom.  Kevin Ding has a great piece up on Odom that deserves your time. (hat tip to commenter Bynumite.)

In case you forgot, the Lakers have now won 8 games in a row. But when I started to think about this streak – something I’ll touch on in a future post – I started to think about how 8 games pales in comparison to what some other teams have done. Especially the great 33 game streak of the 1971-72 team led by Jerry West and Wilt. So, take a trip with me down memory lane and enjoy an old school clip of how the Logo and Big Dipper got it done. Remember too that they accomplished the ultimate goal – a championship. So remember, let’s keep our eyes on the prize.

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The Good:

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.

The Bad:

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.

The Reactions:

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?”

Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers


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.