Lakers/Suns: Someone Had To Win

Phillip Barnett —  March 23, 2011

In the game preview, I mentioned that if the Lakers had a chance to throw a knockout punch, they had better make sure it landed. With about 4:40 left to go in the third, Kobe hit a three-pointer to put the Lakers up by 21. After an awful defensive first half, it looked as if the Lakers had corrected all of their defensive problems as the Suns had only scored eight point up until that point. With a 21-point lead late in the third, all the Lakers needed to do was keep the defensive intensity up for another four and a half minutes and they’d find themselves up big going into the fourth, with the starters getting rest for much of the final period. But instead of the starters getting a break, the game was extended 15 minutes longer than the normal 48, ending with a Lakers two-point overtime win.

As mentioned, things were sloppy on the defensive end early. Steve Nash performed beautifully in the first quarter, finishing the first 12 minutes with seven assists. As soon as Marcin Gortat came in for Robin Lopez, the Suns pick and roll game was elevated to a level that was seemingly impossible for the Lakers to stop. If Nash wasn’t feeding Gortat on the hard roll, he was taking it to the basket himself. If he wasn’t getting to the rim, he was kicking it out to willing jump shooters. Nash’s penetration continually collapsed the defense, and when the ball was kicked out, all Suns on the floor became willing passers, taking advantage of the Lakers slow rotations and finding the open man for easy baskets.

Offensively, the Lakers were a bit out of character, shooting way too many threes (as was the case around this time of the year last season), and taking unnecessary shots early in the shot clock. The Suns went to a zone when the reserves came in, and the three point shooting just increased. The Lakers didn’t have a problem moving the ball against the zone, but instead of attacking a shifting zone off of ball reversals, they continued to launch threes, leading to long rebounds and great Steve Nash passes. When the starters returned in the second quarter, the offense began to look like the triangle we’re used to seeing. Kobe and Pau were able to slow things down and work for better shots. By the end of the second quarter, Kobe began to take things over either scoring, or assisting on, all Lakers points in the final three minutes of the half, helping the Lakers go into the half up six.

Fast forward to the last moments of regulation. With a little over a minutes left, Kobe sunk a deep jump shot, putting the Lakers up by six (remember, they led by 21 in the third), which seemed to be the haymaker to put the game on ice. Instead, the Lakers miss a defensive assignment and leave Channing Frye wide open for a three pointer to cut the lead in half. The Lakers turn the ball over on a shot clock violation on the ensuing possession, giving the Suns an opportunity to send the game to overtime. Vince Carter missed a mid range jumper, but the Lakers allowed Grant Hill to grab the offensive rebound. He kicked out to Vince Carter who looked for the shot, but kicked over to Hill, who had ran to the corner and knocked down the game tying three-pointer. Overtime. The first of three.

At the end of the first overtime period, the Lakers were up again in a position to win, but another Suns offensive rebound led to Channing Frye getting fouled, beyond the three point line by Lamar Odom, with about a second left to play. Frye knocked down all three free throws and send the game into the second overtime. Toward the end of the second OT, Kobe found himself trapped way behind the basket, and threw a fantastic pass to Pau, who was fouled down by two with just a couple of seconds left on the clock. Pau knocked down both freebies and sent the game into a third overtime. The third overtime was brutal to watch. All of the guys on the floor were exhausted. There were at least seven missed shots around the rim combined from both teams, but in the end it was the Lakers who would come up with the big plays. First, Kobe hit a three pointer over Jared Dudley, which seemed to spark a little life back into the team. Then Ron Artest finished off a Laker fast break with a beautiful left-handed jam over Channing Frye. Finally, Artest hit a leaning 15-footer to put the Lakers up five. Channing Frye would hit another three pointer, but the Lakers would prevail in a thrilling triple over time win.

Despite Lamar Odom’s foolish foul at the end of the first overtime, he played a fantastic game finishing with 29 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and a block. He continued to make huge play after huge play throughout the course of the game and was easily the most consistent Laker on the floor tonight. Kobe finished one assist shy of a triple double and recorded 42 points, his first 40-point game since the Lakers loss to the Celtics at the end of January. Also, Matt Barnes had his most effective game since returning from the injury. He finished with 13 points and five rebounds, but as always, his contributions came in the form that aren’t found in the box score. While he was on the floor, the offense seem to move better with his constant slashing and cutting and he was on the ball, or very close to it in all 50/50 situations.

All-in-all, this was a good win for the Lakers. They survived the Bynum suspension with two wins — two tough wins that they had to gut out in the final minutes. Thankfully, they don’t play again until Friday against the Clippers.

Phillip Barnett