For the third straight time this season, the road team came away with a victory in the Lakers/Suns season series. And for the second straight game, the Lakers come away with a victory, with a 99-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Last night’s game was a little reminiscent of the Lakers of last season. The Forum Blue and Gold didn’t get out to a scorching start, but midway through the first quarter, the Lakers went on a quite impressive 16-0 run, with the offense moving the ball beautifully and the defense rotating like the top-5 defense that led them to the title last season. However, the starting group headed to the bench, and watched while the reserves let a 12-point lead turn into a new ball game when Jared Dudley tied the game at 44 with his second of three 3-pointers of the second quarter. The Suns would go on to take a one-point lead on the back of Dudley’s 19 points.
Coming out of the half, Kobe became more aggressive on the offensive end. As explained by Silver Screen and Roll’s Dexter Fishmore:
What proved crucial was a stretch at the beginning of the third period, when Kobe, after a strong but reserved first half, became more forceful at the offensive end. In the first six possessions he collected eight points and an assist. This turned a one-point halftime deficit into a six-point cushion that the Suns spent the rest of the night struggling and ultimately failing to overcome. For the third quarter as a whole, in which the Lakers scored a scrumptious 1.41 points per trip, Kobe scored 12 on six shots and handed out three dimes. Who’s killing who now?
Gasol, who didn’t have his best night offensively, did dish out six assists and grab nine of the Lakers 47 rebounds. There were five Lakers who grabbed at least five rebounds, forcing Alvin Gentry to go with lineups that the Suns weren’t accustomed to having on the floor to combat the Lakers size, Valley of the Suns Michael Schwartz explains:
he biggest reason the Suns lost this one is that they got crushed on the boards once again, this time by a 47-31 margin. That’s despite the Suns starting a front line of Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat, but Lopez was once again ineffective with two points and one board and poor defense against Andrew Bynum.
Gentry was pleased with his twin towers, but they inherently ruined the spacing on offense (aside from the fact Gortat isn’t used to playing the four and wasn’t always in the right spot) and their defense/rebounding didn’t make up for it. When asked about this lineup, Steve Nash said it was necessary to combat the Lakers’ size but he doesn’t expect it to become a Suns staple.
However, in Laker like fashion, they allowed the Suns to stick around. The Suns moved to a zone defense in the fourth quarter, slowing down the offense that had scored 1.4 points per possession during the third quarter. The ball movement that was witnessed during earlier quarters disappeared allowing the Suns to slowly chip away at the Lakers lead. With 2:24 left in the game, Vince Carter knocked down a three to cut the Lakers lead to one — but that was as close as they would get.
After Shannon Brown’s free throws extended the Laker lead back to three, Vince Carter missed a shot, giving the Lakers the opportunity to attack the Suns defense before they set their zone, allowing Kobe to find a wide open Ron Artest in the corner for a game-icing three. Land O’ Lakers’ Brian Kamenetzky explains the play:
His biggest moment, though, came with ninety seconds left in the game and the Lakers up three, when Bryant found a wide open- take-a-moment-to-tweet-your-peeps-and-ask-them-if-you-should-shoot wide open- Artest set up behind the arc in the left corner. To say the Suns conceded the shot would be an understatement. I swear I heard them quintuple dog dare him to fire away. Artest hesitated, saw nobody was going to contest the shot, gathered, and rose (by Artestian standards) for the jumper. Bucket.
A couple things to note, here: First, Artest hit a huge shot late in the game, something he badly needs for his confidence. Second, that he was even on the floor to have the opportunity was a positive, because it hasn’t been the case throughout the year.
I’m not calling Artest “back,” but the last two nights- more comfortable on offense, some signs of life on the other end- have seen steps in the right direction.
With :41 seconds left to play, Channing Frye knocked down the Suns’ 11th three pointer of the night (a far cry from the 22 they made at Staples in November), cutting the Lakers lead to four. Kobe missed a 17-footer on their next possession, leading to Vince Carter taking a three pointer on the right wing to potentially cut the lead to one with 10 seconds left. However, Pau rotated beautifully and blocked the attempt, thus closing the Lakers’ second victory in Phoenix this season.
The Lakers play New Orleans on Friday and play the Knicks on Sunday.