The wonderful thing about sports is the unpredictable nature. Unless you're talking WWE, crooked boxing (or according to the conspiracy nuts, the NBA), there's no script being followed. The games, as they say, can't be played on paper, and the chance of getting thrown for a loop is what makes everything so fantastic.
Unless, of course, the twist ending comes at your team's expense.
After Games 1 and 2 finished so lopsidedly in favor of the Lakers, not to mention the Celtics' 3-0 lead over the Magic, fans began looking ahead to a Finals matchup with Boston. The media began looking ahead to a Finals matchup with Boston. My guess is even Lakers not named "Andrew" or "Bynum" began looking ahead to a Finals matchup with Boston. Sure, everyone conceded Phoenix likely had enough in them to avoid a sweep, but that would be the swan song interrupting a relatively easy road to destiny.
Or, as it turned out, unpredictability would rear its tricky head with elements like a zone defense, Amare Stoudemire's pride, and a bench explosion for the ages. Suddenly, the series is knotted at two apiece, Lakers fans are worried about their team solving a defensive riddle, and, by the way, Orlando's won two in a row.
Food for discussion, and ours touched upon...
-The Suns bench exploding for 54 points. Not 53, Brian. 54. More than double the 20 combined points from Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom, and nearly 11 times the reserves' total if LO's 15 were removed. Yowzza!
-How big a fly in the Lakers' ointment has the zone been? Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson downplayed the effect of Phoenix's zone after the game, citing the triple digit score and 49 percent clip from the field. True Hoop's Kevin Arnovitz informed Brian via email how, measured by statistical efficiency, the Lakers actually put forth a historically good piece of postseason offense. This may very well be the case. Arno's a helluva lot smarter with numbers than me or Brian.
Having said that, there's no statistical measure for "labored." Whatever figures you come up after carrying the one, the fact remains L.A. was sweating hard for nearly every basket. The Lakers often looked frustrated and flustered while uniting ball and cord. Plus, the numbers were skewed by Kobe's unconscious second and third quarter. Without Kobe's heroics, things might have looked more grim.
Kobe also expressed an opinion the team was too preoccupied with the zone, between a Monday spent practicing against it and the oodles of media questions. I imagine there's some truth to this. It's like being told not to think about elephants. At some point, you have to just play without thinking.
-Still, we're in unison with Kobe and PJ about the defense leaving much to be desired, whether you're talking inside, outside or just checking Phoenicians without fouling.
But aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
Kobe Bryant, on whether he told teammates to stop thinking about the zone:
"My message is offensively, we're going to score enough points. We're shooting at a high percentage. Defensively, we;ve gotta do a much better job. That's the message."
Kobe, on stopping Phoenix's three-point shooting.
""It's a challenge. But we have to do a better job of keeping them out of the paint. The three points shots, they'll make some, miss some. We gotta keep them off the paint and off the free throw line."
Kobe, on the difference in defense at Staples vs. U.S. Airways Center:
We executed much better [in the first two games]. We didn't miss as many assignments as we missed the last two games. We're leaving guys wide open. That's something we didn't do."
"There were times when it happened, but that doesn't account for all the fouls. There are still other situations where we did foul or it was 50/50 and the home team is going to win of the 50/50 calls. Those aren't things going into the game tomorrow assuming it's going to be different. You have to assume it's going to be the same. You have to be sharper and more efficient in terms of your execution, so the game doesn't come down just a foul shot disparity."
Fisher, on whether the defensive issues were a matter of effort or execution:
"Your effort and being in the right places can also come from making sure we're sharp on where we're supposed to go. Who should be rotating? What situations we're we going to switch? When are we gonna front? When are we gonna trap? That makes the decision making easier and all of a sudden maybe it looks like the effort is better. It's just from being sharper about what you're doing."
Fisher, on whether Game 5 is more urgent for the Lakers or the Suns:
"I don't think the sense of urgency really fluctuates in that manner. I don't think that any team ever decides that one game is less meaningful than the other, especially when you get to the Western Conference Finals and on the doorstep of having an opportunity to win a title. Every game really means the same. You can only play the one that's next. Tomorrow night is next and that's the one we're focused on."
Pau Gasol, on the defensive execution in need of improvement:
"Most of the stuff is stuff we know about. It's not too complicated, it's just a matter of personnel and knowing what's going on out there at all times. Just being alert for 48 minutes."