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.
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.
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?”
This quote from Zach Harper has immediately made it into my collection of all-time classics:
“Putting Pau Gasol second fiddle to someone like Kobe Bryant is like telling MacGyver to screw the dental floss, flashlight and Pop Rocks and just handing him over Batman’s utility belt.”
Ron Artest at halftime: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYSvcEpk17U
I have to agree with Zach Harper. Gasol is the best big man in the game. Not by a huge margin, and you can make arguments for some other players; Dwight is intimidating and the best defensive big man in the league, Nowitzki is a virtuoso on the offensive end, but Gasol has the full package and Garnett and Duncan are past their primes.
Here are both the halftime + the TNT interview after the game:
Gr8 Scott says
Maybe someone else has brought this up already (and I know it’s premature), but is anyone concerned that playing the free-wheeling, no defense Suns is bad physical preparation for what appears to be a long, physical set with the Cs?
Darius – I don’t think the Lakers got lazy in the 2nd and 3rd quarters (there was a little bit of coasting, yes, but not a ridiculous amount).
I think the Suns’ small lineup temporarily flumoxed them.
Remember in 2008, Game 4 of the Finals – the Celtics went small and it totally threw the Lakers off – that’s how they came back from 20+ points.
I was more encouraged to see how the Lakers recovered from the Suns going small WITHIN THE SAME GAME.
It was a wrinkle they obviously weren’t prepared for, but they figured it out by the fourth quarter and cruised to victory.
In the past, Kobe would see the small lineup and take it as an invitation to jack up shots because of the lack of shot-blockers, throwing off the whole offense.
This year’s older, wiser Kobe, however, patiently worked the post. That’s what you do against a small lineup. Beat them to death in the post. All those close shots prevent run-outs (where a small lineup thrives) and turns the game into a station to station affair, which absolutely kills a small lineup.
I was really impressed with LA last night.
And I hate to do this (and I should probably be struck by lightening for even mentioning this – I know…the Lakers are only up 2 – 0, they’ve essentially just held serve), but the Celtics get absolutely killed with small lineups.
Orlando had the most success with the Nelson, Reddick, Vince, Lewis, Dwight lineup – Cleveland had the most success with the lineup with Hixon as pf.
The Celtics have their terrific “big” lineup (KG, Perkins, or Sheed in the post), but the Celtics bigs (outside of KG) aren’t as skilled at scoring as the Laker bigs, so if you go small against them, they’re not as effective at combating that strategy by pounding the post.
Just Food for Thought.
MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB says
best quote of the night last night … Compliments of Alvin Gentry at half time:
” IF WE ARE GONNA GO DOWN … WE ARE GONNA GO DOWN FIGHTING … JUST LIKE WE ALWAYS DO”
Craig W. says
Lamar and Gasol are not a small lineup, but they do function that way for the Lakers. A quick, athletic lineup with long 6’10” & 7’0″ players on the front line is really a nightmare.
Not sure I’ve seen anyone take so much crap for a comment as Amare has. Blogs and newspapers from both teams, even ESPN’s official game recap makes a sarcastic reference to Odom’s second straight lucky game.
I’m wondering again whether or how often John Hollinger looks up from his spreadsheets to actually watch the games.
Thanks to everclear (#2) and Kaifa (#4) for sending the links – I’ve updated the post with the link.
Craig W. says
It is kind of like Hollinger made his bones with new statistical measures and anything that isn’t statistical threatens the validity of his work. Not uncommon, but a sad commentary on his approach to basketball.
Statistics are a valuable basketball tool, but they are still only about 50% of the game analysis.
That came up in the post-game interview with Artest, if I remember right. That when most teams go big they also slow down, but when the Lakers go big, they become mobile. Those comments are in the interview link from Kaifa.
8) Craig W,
“A quick, athletic lineup with long 6?10? & 7?0? players on the front line is really a nightmare.”
A thought along those lines occurred to me last night when Artest and Gasol executed that fast break perfectly.
Pau and Kobe are match made in heaven. They both have such great skills and basketball mind. Unlike Shaq, I don’t think Pau needs to be the recipient of ALL the credit. So Kobe doesn’t mind deferring to him at times because Pau loves to share the ball.
I think Dirk is the only one that may come close to challenge Pau, but Pau is better on defensive end and rebounds better, too.
As Kelly Dwyer noted, this Lakers are truly a dominant team that can make great teams look mortal. Remember, how the Lakers just killed everyone in the west two years ago, with their devastating offense? This current team is that same team PLUS Bynum and Artest AND with better defensive intensity. Had Pau been tougher or Bynum healthy that year…we would have been going for threepeat right now. This is a great, great team that could compete with some of the best teams of the past. I truly believe that.
Re: Gasol being called the best big.
And only a couple years ago people questioned whether playing alongside Kobe made you play worse…
“And only a couple years ago people questioned whether playing alongside Kobe made you play worse…”
And whether Phil develops players.
Too much celebration right now. Laker fans be clear… we have done nothing. We have held serve against Phoenix, and if we get past them, will have an intense battle in the Finals. 6 more wins is most important.
You can go small against the Celtics if you don’t want to generate one on one offense in the post. The Lakers however like to go into the post and that was a major problem when Bynum was out in the 08 Finals. Gasol who is a natural PF had to go against a prototypical Center in Perkins and got banged up and pushed around and couldn’t score in the post. One of the advantages the Lakers will have in the rematch is the fact that Bynum will just be on the court and take on Perkins. I am convinced though that Rivers will try to see if KG can guard Andrew without the Lakers making him pay. We will see…
It will also help to not have VladRad and Walton guarding Pierce. I mean jesus… We go from the worst defenders at Sf the NBA has seen to one of the best SF one on one defenders of all time. A difference Yoda says it will make. I think we are all excited. Hopefully the Magic can drag this series out a little longer.
Something interesting to chew on:
The Lakers have NEVER lost to the Celtics when Pau, Kobe, and Bynum are in the lineup…
…also, I am in complete agreement that the Artest-for-Ariza move looks better everyday, especially with a looming match-up with Paul “Winky” Pierce. I still have nightmares of Pierce single-handedly (and unbearably) winning the 2008 series for Boston by abusing Ariza and Luke for 6 games.
“And only a couple years ago people questioned whether playing alongside Kobe made you play worse…”
And whether Phil develops players.””
More like this year, people were still questioning it. Kobe ostensibly made you play worse because we went on that winning streak when he was out. And PJ only made young bench players like SB & Farmar regress.
Listening to the post-game interviews, I’m glad about how Odom did not take any bait with the whole “luck” thing.
I am enjoying this streak as much as anyone, but I agree with 17 and 18. I’d add that the Lakers have gotten favorable matchups throughout the WC Playoffs. Recall that in 2008 the Lakers rolled into the Finals as well.
The Lakers still have to go there and play. This is not over.
I think Orlando is still going to make some noise, in spite of the hole they are in. I do not think it will be a sweep.
Possible Lakers matchup up with Boston:
Some factors favoring Boston: Rondo’s improvement, the addition of Wallace, the development of Davis and TAllen, Bynum’s injury, Garnett’s ability to contain Odom.
Some factors favoring the Lakers: Bynum will at least be there this time, as opposed to being totally MIA; Ron Artest, not Luke Walton, will be the primary defender on Pierce; Brown is a nice counter to TAllen, Gasol seems tougher than he was two years ago, and the Lakers will have HCA this time.
Game 1 matters in any series, but I think it will be particularly crucial in a Lakers-Boston Finals this year. I agree with the idea that the Lakers would have to make a big style adjustment; it will be like going from running with a herd of antelope to wrestling a bunch of silverback gorillas. The Lakers will need to deal with that and win Game 1.
I would not call OKC a favorable match-up.
Moved over from the previous thread:
We’ve been up 2-0 against the Suns in the playoffs before. Anyone remember how that ended?
Yeah. Let’s not break out the champagne and the Boston game films just yet, okay?
I would not call OKC a favorable match-up.
They created some problems with their youth and speed, but any team short of talent and/or size at the 4 and the 5, as OKC is, is IMO a favorable matchup for the Lakers.
This is why Boston, if that is what happens, will be so tough. They have Perkins, Garnett, Wallace, and Davis.
What’s more disturbing is Doc Rivers’ willingness to let his bigs plays and collect fouls–anyone else notice this against ORL? He’s not sitting his bigs for foul trouble until they sit themselves by fouling out. In other words, Boston won’t play undersized until they’ve collected 24 fouls. …gutsy coaching move.
Granted, I think the Celtics will have to minimize hacking our bigs, considering how well they shoot FTs (as compared to Dwight Howard)
6/burgundy: that orl lineup you mentioned is a bit more productive because boston respects all 4 of the perimeter players’ 3pt shot. when barnes is in there, his man lurks in the paint and puts a wrench in orl’s drive and kick game.
it’s not that they’re smaller, it’s that they’re better shooters.
Good points. From a defensive standpoint, they would be a challenge since they all do different things: Garnett works the mid-low post with turns and fades, Wallace shoots 3s, Perkins bulls his way in on putbacks, and Davis work off dives and flashes.
As is often the case with the Lakers, I think if they play Boston, it will come down to what they get from Odom and Bynum. Look at what Odom is doing in this series, for example. But if Garnett is able to lock up Odom again, and if Bynum is not someone Boston has to respect on O, the Lakers will have a rough time, because that will put too much on Pau and Kobe.
But, again, this time we’d have Artest, not Walton, on Pierce, and if it gets to a G6 and a G7, those games will be in Los Angeles. Big differences from 2008.
A new post is up. Taking a look at an old Lakers streak…
Artest looks a little bored out there on defense…but maybe he can get excited enough to shut down Richardson.
I can’t wait to see (knock on wood) Artest take down Paul “Kanye” Pierce in the Finals. Artest was signed to deal with SFs like Pierce, and given the two players’ history with each other, this will be a Finals to remember.
Or, if Orlando makes it, I guess Ron can get bored guarding Pietrus, Barnes, or Vince “Nick Anderson” Carter.
“We’ve been up 2-0 against the Suns in the playoffs before. Anyone remember how that ended?”
What connection is there between this series and the one in 1993 when, as an 8th seed, we lost 3-2 in the first round to the #1 seed? And we probably would’ve won that one, too, if not for a blown 24-sec violation on the Suns in the final minute.
Mimsy is trying to get the fan base not to overlook the Suns at home. And we shouldn’t be counting our chickens before they hatch. That we should take it one game at a time. And that a playoff series doesn’t really start until a visiting team wins a game.
3 Cliches. But all true.
You make some extremely valid points.
About our 2-0 lead
I love the team chemistry and overall attitude fueled with confidence. Kobe is KOBE. Pau is playing very well. Artest appears comfortable on offense and mollasses like on defense. Odum coming alive is refreshing. Bench performance an added suprise.
But. Let’s not lose focus. I still think there are areas of concern that will have to be addressed if we plan to get a ring this year.
1. Pau has played well against Boozer and Amare but can he gather enough touch juice to handle KG or Perkins without letting them man-handle him like in 08?
2. What will we do to combat the new G.I.JOE Rondo? I mean Rondo is quicker than Nash and more of a true pg than Westbook. Rondo will penetrate no doubt. But WHO will make him pay?
3. Defense wins rings and I’m sure glad we have Artest. I loved Ariza but this deal was excellent. However, he will be left open to shoot in the finals. Double Kobe and Pau- let him shoot will be employed by the Celtics. Can Artest give us good shooting performance or will Browns number get called?
4. I would like to see us play Defense, as we will need that in the finals if we play Celtics. If we play Magic it will be a shootout!
5. How much can Bynum contribute? Will he be a factor or a foul troubled liability?
6. We need Farmer to play well because these games are surely wearing Fish down. His minutes are too high headed to the finals. We need blow out games to rest him.
7. Do we have enough set plays to run for Odom? It appears that the more he dies on offense, the more aggressive he is on defense. Keeping him “involved” in the game is key.
8. Final concern. Can we give the fans tacos the rest of the way?
Fan bases are allowed to look ahead especially on a website devoted to that fan base with so much time off between games. We’re not the players, looking ahead won’t affect the play.
Amare is seriously one of the worst defenders i’ve ever seen. He seriously doesn’t even look like he’s paying attention half the time.