Sure, things may not look good for Phoenix at the moment, but don't count them out yet, because Lamar Odom's luck seems to be turning. Game 2 featured just 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a block. Assuming the Suns can last seven games, I imagine they'll have LO right where they want him.
More analysis and video below...
Fingernails inside Staples Center and throughout the Southland were getting teeth-induced manicures as the third quarter concluded knotted up at 90. A nine-point halftime advantage had been frittered away by L.A., and the final 3:56 featured a 13-6 run by Phoenix. The Lakers D went into "trading buckets" mode during the only frame Phoenix racked a superior field goal percentage (63.6) than L.A. (55.6). Jason Richardson and Grant Hill combined for 26 and Steve Nash had six dimes. The team was cruising like the version sending the Spurs on vacation.
Was there reason for concern the Suns were perhaps onto a formula they could exploit against their hosts?
Actually, not so much.
With 8:41 remaining in the fourth, a 97-95 Lakers lead was doubled after Pau Gasol drew a foul on Jared Dudley off a pick-and-roll, then drained both freebie attempts. This trip to the stripe represented the opening of the floodgates, as just two minutes were needed to remind everyone who the defending champions were, as well as the heavy favorites in this series. Shannon Brown was fouled after a gorgeous over-the-shoulder feed from Gasol while cutting to the cup, then connected on his charity pair. An early pull-up three ball from Jordan Farmar dropped. Kobe Bryant twisted his way towards the baseline against Hill, utilizing some behind-the-back dribbling to create space. Baseline J drained. Time out Phoenix.
In the meantime, the Lakers' lead, like Spinal Taps amps, goes to 11.
Beyond the scoring flurry, what truly provided relief was the way the Lakers reestablished themselves through the defense that's become their calling card this season. During those two minutes alone, Nash had back-to-back turnovers, the former triggering Farmar's three and the latter setting up Kobe's highlight-reel jumper. Leandro Barbosa curled to the basket after a Nash feed, only to meet a wall in the form of Brown, Lamar Odom, and Gasol waiting to challenge, with El Spaniard blocking the layup as the Brazilian Blur hit the deck hard. A harsh reminder of which team is better in the lockdown department (although Amare Stoudemire seemed pretty determined to prove this obvious reality all by himself).
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.
Not enough defense.
Way too undersized.
No answer for Kobe, whether as a primary scorer or primary play maker.
The Suns have until Sunday to put on their thinking caps and discover a solution for Game 3. These issues may require the donning of ten gallon hats.
NEED MORE PAU-BELL
Spend a few years watching the Lakers, and it becomes clear the fourth quarter is the duly patented and trademarked domain of Kobe Bryant. Rare is the game in which he isn't the guy taking the majority of available shots, assuming the game is close enough to require his presence on the floor.
Wednesday was an exception.
Pau Gasol was dominant in the final 12 minutes, particularly over the last 5:46, scoring 10 points as the Lakers salted the game away. Generally matched against Amare Stoudemire- always a good start- he displayed great hands near the basket finishing on the pick and roll, flashed a few post moves, drilled a seven-foot turnaround hook, and basically served as a one-man wrecking crew. Over the full 12 minutes, Pau had 14 points on five-of-seven shooting. On the other end, he added a big block on Leandro Barbosa, and pulled down three rebounds.
No question Kobe was part of it, assisting on three of Gasol's five field goals, but it was refreshing to see the Lakers hammer the same nail repeatedly throughout the fourth. Too often, they'll steer off the path of least resistance and instead make a beeline to the nearest bog. That's just how they roll.
It's a tendency generally resulting in fewer touches for Gasol than he deserves. Talking recently to one former head coach, he marveled at how incredibly difficult it is to defend Gasol, saying (barely joking, really) the best defense against him is simply that the Lakers don't give him the ball enough. Certainly his usage numbers- essentially a measurement of the number of possessions a player uses in 40 minutes of play- reflect it. Gasol finished the regular season tied for 94th in the NBA.
94th. 41 spots behind Marreese Speights. Just a hair behind Memphis rookie Sam Young. (Kobe, for the sake of comparison, was tied for fourth.)
It's kind of absurd. Yet Gasol still averaged 19.8 points after the break, and has been even better in the playoffs. Through 12 games, Gasol has produced 21 points on 58 percent from the floor, plus 12 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.9 blocks a night. This while only using 13.75 shots a game.
He's also a huge part of what the Lakers have managed to do defensively, as they've become one of the best teams in the league on that end of the floor. We saw it in last year's Finals as he bodied up Dwight Howard, while also having to check Rashard Lewis. Still, he manages not to get the credit he deserves. Gasol's mobility in space and ability to alter shots around the rim without fouling make him incredibly valuable, particularly against a team like the Suns, so capable of spreading the floor and attacking the rim.
(And his best play may have been a wicked slick over the shoulder pass from the elbow to a slicing Shannon Brown. There's a reason people call him a point guard in the post...)
Nobody will replace Kobe as L.A.'s Mariano Rivera, but tonight Gasol showed again he's a player capable of carrying the fourth-quarter burden with him.
PERSPECTIVE ON KOBE'S PLAYMAKING
Kobe Bryant's 13 dimes didn't just represent a career playoff-high. The baker's dozen is the best from any Laker in the postseason since Magic Johnson in Game 3 of 1996 first round series against the Houston Rockets. I think most folks would agree, that's some pretty solid company Kobe's keeping. I've often said Bryant's work while playing point guard is actually better than many actual point guards.
5: Andrew Bynum's field goals, notched on the same number of tries. 13 points in all, paired nicely with seven rebounds. Without question, this was Drew's best game since his knee began noticeably causing problems halfway through the previous series against Utah. Much more activity. Much more confidence. Troubles with Phoenix's heavy screen-roll action left Bynum mostly glued to the bench during the second half. But having expressed concern for Andrew's health before the game, Phil Jackson was pleased afterward with the center's contributions.
"I thought he played a good game for us tonight that we liked. He did some things that were really good for us. Offense. We got rebounds. When they went to their screen-roll offense, that's when we had to accelerate the pace a little bit and use more mobile players on the outside. I think that's a little tough for Drew to cover right now."
71.1: The percentage of Laker field goals created via the assist. 32 dimes creating 45 buckets. Pretty flippin' good, and indicative of the often-fantastic ball movement on display by the Lakers. Obviously, the tally was bumped heavily by Kobe's 13, but the sharing vibe was fairly omnipresent from the top man down. Save Farmar and Bynum, every Laker had at least a pair. When the Lakers put their mind, focus and patience towards ball movement, ain't a team in the league capable of touching them along these particular lines.
0: Take your pick. It's either the number of three-pointers, baskets or points put forth by Channing Frye. Five misses in five tries, with a pair of downtown bricks. For that matter, he only had one rebound in 8:39 of run, a paltry total which could perhaps be written off as the byproduct of low PT... except he still managed to get four fouls in such short time. Tacked onto a miserable Game 1, and Frye's yet to make the crucial impact expected and needed off the bench.
Alvin Gentry didn't mince words summing up Frye thus far in the playoffs: "Channing Frye is going to have to step up for us, that's the bottom line.We need him on the floor. He's a good post defender for us, but he's got to be able to make some shots."
23: Grant Hill's points on a very impressive 10-of-17 shooting clip. His 14 third quarter points were key in getting the Suns back in the game, albeit for only a moment. He may be the enemy, but give credit where credit is due. Old Man River had himself a pretty "vintage" effort.
Steve Nash, on Gasol: "He's extremely long. He's able to go both ways in the post. He's a good shooter and a passer for a big guy, he can look over the defense. He can look over double teams. So he's extremely versatile. He can put the ball on the floor. He can make plays at the same time he can score going both ways in the post. So he's a terrific player."
Phil Jackson, on Andrew Bynum: "I thought he played a game for us tonight that we liked. I mean, he did some things that were really good for us on offense. We got rebounds. When they went to their screen roll offense, that's when we had to accelerate the pace a little bit and use more mobile players on the outside. I think that's a little tough for Drew to cover right now."
Bynum, on whether he's confident the knee will hold over the rest of the playoffs: "I'm confident I'm going to do (play), no matter what."
Grant Hill, on Phoenix's defensive problems: "We have to figure it out. We've given up 120-plus these past two games. We've scored enough points but defensively they're scoring at will. We fought there in the third quarter, competed, but when you give up 60-plus points in the first half, you're digging yourself a hole. We've just got to figure it out."
Alvin Gentry, on strategies going forward to slow down the Lakers: "I'm open to suggestions..."
Kobe Bryant, on what turned the game for the Lakers in the final quarter: "Jordan Farmar. You know, he came in and made a big three for us, and got a big deflection and a steal for us. that changed the momentum of the game. Up until that point, they had all the momentum. And he single-handedly was responsible for changing that at the start of the fourth."
Lamar Odom, on LuckyGate: "It's not really about me versus Amare Stoudemire. I'm saying this is about the Lakers versus the Suns. That's how I look at it."
First, we hear from Mr. Lucky himself...
Kobe and Phil
Derek Fisher, on Kobe's ability to handle whatever defense:
Ron Artest on the upcoming Game 3 and Kobe: