From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Gregg Popovich touted the Suns improved defense. Everyone was talking about it. That’s how they were finally going to get over the hump — be just good enough on defense to go with an amazing offense. The Lakers blew that defense up. They blew right by it from the perimeter and right into the heart of the Suns defense. The Lakers drove the ball right down the middle — literally, slashing down the center and into the paint all night long. It was the heart of their surprisingly easy 128-107 win.
From Rob Mahoney, Pro Basketball Talk: Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals made one thing abundantly clear: unless the Suns are able to come up with some truly remarkable performances, the Lakers will win this series. L.A. is so talented and so long that they’ll receive the benefit of the doubt in almost every regard, and barring a transcendent performance from Steve Nash or Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix will lose.
From Henry Abbot, Truehoop: Here’s a nice little video analysis of the many points Kobe Bryant scored in the third quarter. The give-and-go with Pau Gasol was the highlight, but do not ignore the artful avoidance of the charge as he scoots around the defender at the rim, finishing with the left hand. A lot of basketball is seen as being about power, but in finishing, there’s a lot of value in having a light touch. It’s almost like ballet. Other assorted observations from Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals:
From Zach Harper, Hardwood Paroxysm: There are plenty of things to talk about in Game One of a Lakers blowing out of the Phoenix Suns. Kobe Bryant went off in a very scary way for Suns fans. David Arquette somehow became the post-game story. Andrew Bynum’s knee was tested and rested. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown not only looked like NBA players throughout most of their time on the court but they actually looked like they were ready to help this Lakers team hoist up a 16th banner. And Pau Gasol proved that he’s most likely the deadliest post player in the NBA. However, none of that was as important as the playoff sighting of Lamar Odom.
From Phillip Barnett, Talkhoops: Both the Lakers and the Suns went into Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals as one of the hottest remaining playoff teams. The Suns were coming off of an impressive sweep over the Spurs and the Lakers’ sweep of the Utah Jazz was equally as impressive. It was widely believed that the early minutes of Game 1 would give insight into which team could be able to continue inspired play into a third playoff series. Tonight, this was night the case.
From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: For the 11th time in his storied playoff career, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points while leading the Lakers to an impressive 128-107 victory over Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The home team’s steady all-around effort on Monday at STAPLES Center also featured major contributions from Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (21 points, five assists), but it was the snarl of the 2009 Finals MVP that set the tone. “Kobe kind of controlled the whole game,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “When he’s in the zone like he is tonight, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”
From DexterFishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: The Phoenix Suns tonight suffered what Wall Street types refer to as a “market correction.” A few blowouts over an injury-depleted Trail Blazers team in the first round, followed by a second-round sweep of a Spurs squad older than the city of San Antonio itself, engendered irrational exuberance among Suns fans, not to mention a series of shaky hypotheses about how Phoenix would overwhelm the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Suns play defense now! A rested Steve Nash would abuse Derek Fisher! Grant Hill is the ideal defender to slow down Kobe Bryant!
From the K-Bros, Land O’ Lakers: With about 3:40 remaining in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant found himself stuck in the right corner, unable to get off his shot. He moved the ball up the right wing to Derek Fisher, who immediately whipped the ball inside to Pau Gasol at the mid-post. With Robin Lopez on his back, Pau executed a perfect no-look bounce pass to a cutting Bryant, who rose to finish at the rim, absorbing a late push- literally- from Channing Frye for the bucket and a little value add in the “and-one.” Kobe dropped the freebie, and the Lakers were up 86-72.
From Sam Amick, NBA Fanhouse: Before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Houston small forward Shane Battier sent Phoenix small forward Grant Hill a series of lengthy text messages. They were, in essence, a digital CliffsNotes version of how to guard Kobe Bryant from Battier. Houston’s heady player has slowed the Lakers star more than most and was offering statistically-based assistance to the savvy veteran who was now charged with that assignment. Forty Bryant points and one steamrolling Lakers win later (128-107), it was clear the message didn’t get through.
From Eric Freeman, The Baseline: Lakers 128, Suns 107: Well, this one got ugly pretty fast.L.A. picked apart Phoenix’s defense in the kind of fast-paced game that stereotypes suggest would help the Suns. Yet the Lakers owned Game 1, proving that even with their immense size advantage they’re capable of successfully playing multiple styles. The Suns played badly enough that you can see them coming back in the series, but this was not a good start.
From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: Name one team in the last 30 years that has won an NBA Championship without having an elite set of big men on the team? Did anyone come up with the 90’s Bulls? That is the only acceptable response to that question. We can go back into the annuls of history and you will not be able to find another team without a dominant frontline that won an NBA title. So unless MJ comes back from that hot tub time machine and drags Pippen and a less mercurial Phil Jackson coaching him, it isn’t going to happen again this year. Can you come up with another squad? Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Cue the Jeopardy music please…thanks.
From Eddie Maisonet, SLAM Online: I’ve been wanting to write this article for months, but to be honest I haven’t had the nerve to write it. You’ve got to have some nerve to write an article where you compare one of the most talented, all-around teams of all-time in the ’86 Celtics to one of the more mercurial and loquacious very good teams with flashes of great ’10 Lakers. There’s just one problem…these two teams are the mirror images of each other.
From Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Entering the series, I was most concerned about how the Suns were going to match up against the Lakers’ length inside. While Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol certainly made their presence felt, an old foe was largely responsible for torching the Suns in Game 1: Kobe Bryant. As John Hollinger predicted, Kobe was the man who couldn’t be stopped, showing no effects of getting fluid drained from his knee earlier this week by exploding for a 40 spot on 13-for-23 shooting to lead the Lakers to a 128-107 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
From Seth Pollack, Bright Side of the Sun: That was a good old-fashioned ass-kicking and boy did it suck being here for it. The Lakers were hitting shots, the Suns were flat. The Suns were scoring, but the Lakers were scoring more. Kobe went nuts. The Suns went, oh crap. A truly uninspired way to start the series, but still only one game. Just keep repeating that. It’s only one game. It’s only one game. Can Kobe keep hitting contested shot after contested shot and get to the line as well 12 times as well?
From Justin DeFeo, Sir Charles In Charge: Kobe Bryant once again proving he is the baddest man on the planet and in the third quarter of Game One of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Bryant point on a display of offensive efficiency and mastery. Bryant’s quarter (21 points, 7-10 FG’s, 6-6 FT’s) help shut the door on the Suns and give his Lakers a 1-0 lead in the series. Analysis provided in video below:
From Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times: Thanks for coming, Phoenix Suns. Oh, that was just Game 1? In the good news for the Suns, the Western Conference finals are still best-of-seven, so this series didn’t end Monday night… appearances to the contrary in the Lakers’ 128-107 romp. Or is that the bad news for the Suns? As Steve Nash said afterward, “We’ll see….”They’re a lot bigger than us, and they’re probably going to continue to be taller than us as the series goes on.”
From Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times: Shane Battier meant well. Really. The Rockets’ forward, two times a member of the NBA’s all-defensive team, had some time on his hands and got to thinking about his buddy Grant Hill taking on the heavy assignment of guarding Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference finals. So Battier sent off an e-mail. There is some debate as to its length — Hill says it was short, most definitely not the five pages mentioned by TNT’s Doug Collins. “You can’t believe everything you hear,” Hill said, smiling.
From Kevin Ding, Orange County Register: Phil Jackson had just finished yet another pointless group interview about his uncertain coaching future. It was Alvin Gentry’s turn to meet with reporters in the hours before Jackson’s Lakers blew out Gentry’s Suns on Monday night. The easy-going Gentry produced probably the most entertaining pregame head-coach interview in Western Conference finals history, candidly and generously handling a variety of issues – including applauding Steve Nash’s counterpunch to Jackson’s jab about Nash carrying the ball.
From Jeff Miller, Orange County Register: They already were leading by 19 points and hadn’t trailed in nearly two hours of real time. They also were shooting close to 60 percent overall and on the verge of giving Game 1 of the Western Conference finals a stunning eight minutes of garbage time. That’s when Shannon Brown tried to demonstrate just how easy all this seemed to be for the Lakers. By not just dunking over Phoenix’s Jason Richardson but by jumping over him, as well. “I didn’t look at the rim until I was in the air,” Brown said. “If I had looked at the rim earlier, it would have been one of the most spectacular plays ever.”
From Vincent Bonsignore, LA Daily News: Lamar Odom is going to like the Western Conference finals. So is Pau Gasol. And if Andrew Bynum can ever get his right knee to cooperate, so will he. For that matter, anyone who Suns’ power forward Amare Stoudemire is guarding – and we use that term very, very loosely – is going to enjoy this series against Phoenix. Stoudemire might be a lot of things – offensively gifted, a physical beast, blessed with a body straight out of Gold’s Gym – but what he’s not is a good defensive player. In fact he’s downright terrible, and the Lakers exploited that weakness time and again Monday in their 128-107 Game 1 victory at Staples Center, using most of the first half to feed the ball to whomever Stoudemire
From J.A. Adande, ESPN’s Daily Dime: Since Kobe Bryant refuses to leave the past behind when it comes to the Suns, nor can he escape it, it’s impossible not to frame Game 1 of these Western Conference finals in the context of where things stood the most recent time the Lakers faced the Suns in the playoffs, three years ago. In 2007 Bryant felt trapped on an inferior squad, one that quickly bowed out to the Suns in the first round while he spent his final postgame interview issuing an icy demand that the front office do something. With Bryant gone, LeBron James turned the playoffs into his own “American Idol” moment, turning in that virtuoso performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Soon thereafter Bryant began his Radio Free Kobe tour of making trade demands over the airwaves.
From Adam Markazi, ESPN.com: So you think you should know the Lakers by now, don’t you? You think after watching them play about 100 games from the preseason to the postseason you should know their tendencies, their habits and their routines. At this point they should be like that relative who’s always 15 minutes late and never pays his share when you go out to dinner. You don’t turn your back on them, but you learn after a while to show up 15 minutes later than you’re supposed to with a couple of extra bucks in your pocket. You simply adjust your expectations based on their repeated actions.
From Mark J. Spears, Yahoo! Sports: A week had passed since Kobe Bryant had done anything substantial on a basketball court, and when he walked onto the floor early Monday evening, a bright yellow sleeve covered his troublesome right knee. A report earlier in the day said fluid had been drained from Bryant’s knee, the first alarm in Lakerland that something could be amiss. After the Phoenix Suns twice knocked Bryant to the floor and he was slow to get up, the question was fair to ask: Would Bryant’s injury limit him too much for him to be effective in the Western Conference finals?
From Randy Hill, Fox Sports: As dedicated followers of the NBA, we’ve all been exposed to a recent episode of witness tampering. The star of this case is The King, LeBron James, who, while on the way to what was supposed to be his at-last coronation, was taken down at least one peg by the rabble from Boston. A ballyhooed Game 5 swoon created much unrest in the basketball nation, and his Game 6 failure to conquer the Celtics rendered his loyal subjects completely flabbergasted.
Thought you guys would be interested in this article on how the city of Inglewood has fared in the ten years since the Lakers left the Forum, and what the team leaving has meant for the city.
Also, if you want even more to read, check out Kevin Pelton’s take on the Lakers offensive performance over at Baskeball Prospectus.
Ed The Sports Fan says
Great work as always Phil, good stuff.
I banged on Fish a ton during the regular season, so it’s only fair that I point out how fantastic he’s been during the majority of the playoffs.
In Game 3 of the Thunder series, he got his shooting stroke back, and he’s never looked back.
He’s really been wonderful.
He played a terrific, controlled game last night, and I thought he was really solid defensively.
The trick to Fish’s defense last night was bothering the guy who picked him every time the Suns tried to run pick and roll with Nash.
Against the willowy Amare and Frye, a bulldog like Fish can bump them significantly enough when they try to pick him that he disrupts the timing. He did it to perfection last night.
My favorite moment of the press conference was Kobe’s answer when he was asked if rest or some other factor played a big part in his big game. His reply: “Yeah, my age.”
Take that Barkley 🙂
Another note, I thought it was interesting that the Suns tried to mirror the OKC Thunder defensive game plan (front the post, play tight wing defense), and they just don’t have the personel to do it.
In order to execute the OKC Thunder defensive game plan, you need:
1) Athletic, dogged post players or smart, crafty post players to sucessfully front and recover against the Laker bigs (compare Ibaka and Collison to Amare and Lopez).
2) An athletic, long wing defender who can adequately guard Kobe one on one so the other guards can guard Artest and Fish one on one (compare Sefolosha to Grant Hill and Dudley).
3) Long, athletic guards who can bother the post entry passes enough so that the fronting strategy is effective (compare Westbrook and Durant to Nash and Richardson).
Get the picture?
The Utah Jazz didn’t change their defensive strategy because they knew they didn’t have the proper personel to pull it off – yes, they got swept, but the Lakers still had to work for their points.
I’m not sure why the Suns thought the OKC strategy would work for them.
Maybe they had too much time to think about it.
The Suns’ best hope is to try to zone the Lakers to death and hope they get impatient and start jacking up outside shots.
I think what we’ll see in Game 2 is a modified zone where Kobe gets doubled on the catch (similar to what Denver ran in the WCF last year).
The only issue with that strategy is that you need to have long, quick footed bigs who can recover and contest when the ball gets moved (compare Nene, K-Mart, and Birdman to Amare, Lopez, and Frye).
If the Lakers play smart (i.e. patiently work the ball into the post when Kobe gets doubled), the zone won’t work either.
If I’m the Suns, I would play Amundson more than Frye. Amundson at least gives you a hustling, active defender (kind of a poor man’s Ibaka). Frye gives you nothing on defense.
Chownoir (was J) says
#4, I mentioned that in a previous thread that one of the variants Fish used to play the pick was bodying up between Amare and the basket. Fish would keep his hands up while being completely glued to Amare. Fish is so strong it really forced Amare to have to exert effort to free himself around him. He couldn’t just walk Fish. Fish could also try to draw the charge if Amare went full speed.
It really required so much more work on Amare’s part and disrupted the timing of the play. Loved seeing that.
Right or not, I strongly believe that the series before plays a large role in preparing you for the series that comes next.
I’m not sure playing a defensively inept team is the best way to prepare for a potential matchup with an elite defensive unit (boston).
Granted, the Lakers still have a lot of work to do, and so does boston, but you get what I’m saying.
That said, man, what a game!!! Poor Grant Hill, I heard his ankles crack in my living room.
Hill was simply the latest defender to be pinned down into Kobe’s scrapbook.
He played very good defense, for the most part, when he had Kobe one on one. But, as anyone who has been assigned to Kobe can verify, you need to play other-worldly defense to bother Kobe.
Battier last year played as well as it is possible to play defensively. We all remember his hand literally an inch away from Kobe’s face and eyes, and watching Kobe drain jumpers again and again anyway.
You can see defenders give Bryant a glance as they run back… You know they are wondering what else they could possibly do, trying to shake it off by calling it luck. But when it happens over and over and over that little voice starts to sigh…even for professionals. Maybe especially for the professionals.
So much for Phoenix being improved on defense. After getting shredded for 35 in the 1st Q, they settled down and only gave up 93 over the next 3. Ouch.
I think their main problem is that their 2 best athletes (Amare and JR) are terrible defensive players with absolutely no excuse for being that way. Amare is under-sized as a 4, sure, but he’s ridiculously explosive and strong. He should be a rich man’s Ibaka, but instead he plays defense like the Tin Man – no heart. It was ridiculous how easily that Pau and LO went right around, through, and over him.
When your two worst defenders are at the positions where the Lakers are strongest, you are in for some problems. Sure, the Suns can slide Hill over to Kobe, but that’s not ideal, as Artest can muscle JR all he wants. And up front, the Lakers just went at Amare (and Frye, when he was in) all night.
We probably won’s shoot 50% from 3 again, but I just can’t see any substantive adjustments that PHX can make that are going to disrupt the Lakers too much. They are what they are, at this point. They don’t have the personnel or the heart to swarm and scrap like OKC did.
Craig W. says
Each team this year has been distinctly different and the Lakers have had to adjust. That is part of the improvement during the post-season. In each series a different part of our team has to measurably improve and the team is better for it.
This is the part that encourages me about winning the west and facing either Boston or Orlando. We are not the same team that started this playoff – we have become both more versatile and also better.
A key reason for not wanting to face the same types of teams in the playoffs is that the Finals may present you with a different look and you won’t be conditioned to make changes.
Funky Chicken says
gxs & Brian, you are spot on. As I mentioned in a previous thread, the Suns are a really bad defensive team, notwithstanding the pre-series hype about their improvement.
Not having adequate personnel is one thing (neither did OKC or Utah), but effort and toughness can compensate for that a little. Phoenix showed no effort or toughness last night, evidenced by the grand total of 3 free throws for Bynum, Gasol, Odom & Artest. When a team is bullying you inside, the least you can do is fight back and put them on the foul line.
Moreover, the point about the next series is, while a bit premature, totally valid. This is the first playoff opponent who does nothing to prepare the Lakers for the next one. The Jazz were easy fodder for the Lakers after matching up with the Thunder; and the Suns even moreso after the Jazz. However, whether Orlando, with Dwight Howard dominating the post on offense (possibly) and defensively (surely), or Boston, with Perkins, KG, Rasheed, Pierce and others, the Lakers will be in for a much tougher opponent in the next round, which will make game 1 of the finals a huge adjustment from this series….
“A key reason for not wanting to face the same types of teams in the playoffs is that the Finals may present you with a different look and you won’t be conditioned to make changes.”
And one of the benefits of PJs philosophy about forcing the players to work things out themselves during regular season games is that they are better at making those adjustments during the playoffs.
FYI RE: one of your espn story links, Phillip…the writer’s name is Arash Markazi (not Adam).
Anyway, good stuff! I think Pau’s face in that picture pretty much says it all…
@5 MannyP13 – My favorite Kobe moment from the PC was when a reporter asked him if he heard the crowd’s “We want Boston” chant and what his response was. He looked at the guy like he was a total moron with disgust and said “I have no response.”
Well, we looked awesome last night. Gotta keep this up for game 2. One game at a time fellas.
have to give both the coaching staff and the lakers credit for preparing and executing their 3pt defense.
will gentry make adjustments? i don’t think a zone will be very effective. it will lead to offensive rebounds and high percentage putbacks.
i think the suns ought to immediately trap the laker playmakers: gasol and kobe. have faith in your team’s capacity to rotate and recover and let another laker try to beat you.
offensively, barbosa got to basket at will. just have him drive every possession, force help to come over, and crash the glass.
Craig W. says
Sports is a narcotic.
All you have to do is read the fan comments after a big win, or a big loss, and you realize emotions are pegged several standard deviations from the norm. Only a narcotic can induce mood swings that wide.
While it drives me completely nuts when he does it during the regular season, I always forgive him in the playoffs. When you have to work things out on your own you internalize the knowledge much, much better than when someone tells you what to do. Not only do they learn, they actually understand, and that can make all the difference.
Now, on to game 2. GO LAKERS!
A new post is up. Giving a bit of dap to the bench. No, really.
Patrick M says
That quote from the article by Vincent Bonsignore at the LA Daily News was a justified bitch slap at Amare Stoudemire. His lack of defense and rebounding will be exploited by the Lakers for the rest of the series. Amare, you can officially put to rest any talk or thoughts about a max contract! Ain’t happenin’!
The SLAM comparison between Lakers ’10 and Celtics ’86 is pretty entertaining.
Ainge____Vujacic (ok, I made that one up, coupla annoyances!)
Apparently Stoudemire thinks Odom just had a lucky night… no big deal, nothing to be excited about. He just got lucky.
I must say the the Lakers win in game 1 was refreshing. Somewhere between the “I-wear-no-pants” commerical and my over indulgence in a bag of chips I nearly forgot that we were playing one of the leauges best ever Point Guards-Nash, well at least that’s what they (media) called him. We were also going to face a much improved defense that would make any coach overly proud. I didn’t see that, mind you I don’t wear glasses.
And It was said that the Suns would burn us with their massive array of scoring. I missed that too.
We have to realize the obvious here. It doesn’t matter how many games we win this series in-we will win it!
The Suns may want to look for wind energy next time because there’s no heat on the Lakers right now.
Kobe can have his way with this team at any time he chooses. However, I hope that after our 2nd win we start to look towards the finals.
I would like to see Kobe get other guys involved as much as possible. As many of them (excluding Fisher) are not self-motivated. He needs to feed them so much that they want to play good defense just to get the ball again on offense. Because defense not offense will win the final series.
I hope Orlando beats Celtics, but I see Celtics pulling this out in 6 games.
So it’s hard to prepare for another team when we haven’t finished this job but it’s worth getting a head start.
Amar’e thinks that by saying LO had a lucky game gets him off the hook for his VERY POOR DEFENSIVE & REBOUNDING performance in Game 1. STAT only had 3(???) rebounds!
Amar’e should let his game (and not his mouth) speak for itself. He’s beginning to act like some self proclaimed “King” currently gone fishing.
Shoot the ball man, NOT THE MOUTH.
Great job Phillip, as usual. This FB&G site is taking some serious time out of my days and nights to read. No complaints from here though.