Boxscore: Lakers 99, Suns 83
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 113.8, Suns 95.4
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.2%, 50.2%
Before the game, in the preview for this contest, I wrote that when Kobe is playing like it’s a combination of 2009 (all around great play) and 2006 (effective gunning) he’s simply a joy to watch. Well, tonight he was all that and more.
Kobe had 48 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals on the evening and frankly, I don’t even know what to say about him. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to write about him. He was just…amazing.
Working primarily 20 feet and in, Kobe terrorized the Suns’ defense. He stroked his jumper effortlessly and then used the threat of that shot to get into the paint for closer looks. He moved off the ball masterfully, using screens and all variety of angled cuts to break free from his man to go to work. On several possessions, just watching him made me tired.
And speaking of working off the ball, a subtle adjustment has developed over the last couple of games. Kobe’s not calling for the ball in the back court as often and instead is relying on the PG to bring the ball up and initiate the Lakers’ sets. This is allowing Kobe to move off the ball early in possessions and letting the Lakers run their screen actions to get him free while also opening up space for his big men. When asked after the game what the difference is for him working in Mike Browns’s sets rather than the Triangle, Kobe said that it’s now easier for him to get to the post and to the elbow as the team is setting more picks for him to shake free and get to these spots. This is allowing him to catch the ball easier and go to work from positions on the floor that he’s most comfortable.
Tonight, it was clear that he found his comfort zone early and it allowed him to ride the wave to the type of night we’ve seen countless times before but one that never gets old watching. Tonight, Kobe was amazing and the scary part is it’s becoming a habit.
(Honorable mention goes to Luke Walton for his performance tonight. With the Lakers missing both Troy Murphy (stomach flu) and Josh McRoberts (injured toe), the Lakers needed someone to step in and provide production at power forward and Luke did just that. Walton didn’t do anything flashy, but he did have an impact. His numbers weren’t eye popping – 6 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists – but they were meaningful. Five of his eight boards came on the offensive end and helped the Lakers secure the extra possessions they needed to find their offensive groove. And while his 5 assists didn’t lead the team, his knack for hitting the open man on time and in position to do damage was a key ingredient in helping the Lakers find their stride on that side of the ball. Most important though, was that he was simply playing hard and doing as many little things he could to help his team win. It showed not only when watching the game but in his team high +30 on the night. I don’t expect this type of performance from Luke every game, but tonight, when the Lakers needed it, he delivered. And for a guy much maligned for his contract and his lack of contributions over the past few seasons, I’m happy for him.)
The Lakers didn’t do a lot bad tonight but one thing they could have done much better was defend Channing Frye. The Suns’ PF had a team high 17 points on 7-9 shooting, including 3-5 from long range. He consistently shook free from his man (mostly Pau Gasol) and hit jumper after jumper to the point that the Lakers had to call timeouts just to figure out their coverages and rotations in order to try and mark him better. Ultimately, the Lakers countered by going small and removing Andrew Bynum from the game in order to move Pau to Center and bring in MWP and Walton to better match the perimeter oriented game of Frye. Before the game I wrote about how a player like Frye can give the Lakers problems because he’s the big man that can shoot who spaces the floor in the Suns P&R game, but I was hopeful they’d have their strategy sorted out. Turns out, I had real reason to be concerned as he found the space he needed far too often.
(As an aside, I know after tonight’s game folks are going to be a bit down on Bynum after he again struggled to score with any consistency and it was partly some of his inability to help contain Nash’s penetration that led to Frye getting so open. I can understand this sentiment but the Suns keyed on Bynum early and often in this game and effectively double teamed him to make him a passer. Nearly every time Bynum touched the ball he saw a hard double or had a 2nd defender actively digging down and then recovering to his man to throw off his rhythm. Defensively, I thought the Lakers did their big man a disservice by repeating the failed defensive game plan they employed against the Mavs in last year’s playoffs by having Bynum sag in the paint when Nash came off the P&R which opened up Nash’s passing angles and allowed him to pick out his teammates. Ultimately, this wasn’t a great showing for Bynum by any means, but his dip in production – at least tonight – had a lot to do with the defensive game plan and the way the Suns attacked him with multiple defenders on offense.)
This will sound like a broken record but the Lakers couldn’t hit a three pointer tonight to save their lives. They finished the evening 2-17 from deep (11.8%) and they didn’t even seem that good. Meanwhile, the Suns hit 7-20 (35%) of their three pointers and while that doesn’t seem that great, going +15 from behind the arc kept the Suns in this game longer than they should have been. At some point, the Lakers are going to have to hit some shots to keep guards from double teaming the bigs and to continue to allow Kobe the space he needs to operate 18 feet and in. If they don’t, we’ll continue to see nights where Bynum has to live with a second defender in his lap and Kobe facing double teams when he starts to get hot.
The Play of the Game:
Kobe Bryant, alley up reverse dunk. Need I say more?