It was the Lakers’ game to lose when Shannon Brown swung an overhead pass to Jordan Farmar for a three-pointer in the second quarter to give the Lakers a 41-35 lead. It was their game to lose when Robin Lopez elbowed Derek Fisher on the head and sent the Lakers co-captain after the young fellow who obviously wasn’t familiar with the “Scola incident”. It was their game to lose when Kobe Bryant hit a three late in the shot clock to get the Lakers within one, 78-79, in the third quarter. It was their game to lose when Lamar Odom hit two free throws in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a 91-90 edge since they last led in the second quarter. It was their game to lose and that’s just exactly what they did.
Behind a lucky night for Amar’e Stoudemire, who finished with 42 points, and get this, 11 rebounds. The Phoenix Suns have avoided getting. The Lakers, who have ended their 8-game post-season winning streak, stayed within striking distance for the majority of the game, with no Suns lead reaching beyond 10 points. The Suns, however, were clearly the aggressors tonight, attacking the hoop every chance they got (and they got a lot with the Laker defense glaringly ineffective or just plain absent), and were rewarded with 42 free throw attempts to the Lakers’ 20.
“We gave them too many easy shots from the free throw line,” Kobe Bryant said. “We let them attack us.”
“Let them,” as in not doing anything to prevent or defend it. Defense, at its core, is simpler than the skills or instincts of the defender. Like Phil Jackson has said many times before, defense is about effort and the Lakers gave it in small doses when it came to playing on the Suns’ side of the court.
Stoudemire met little resistance on his way to a 42-point game. The player defending his jumpers often didn’t leave the ground for very long, his lay-yups and dunks were mostly uncontested, and even when they were, resulted in free throws — 18 of them of which he converted 14.
Pau Gasol, skillfully sound when he has the ball in his hands, allowed Stoudemire and Robin Lopez, who scored 20 points, to repeatedly slip by his watch. Getting no help from Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, who were both in foul trouble, Gasol received the brunt of the Suns’ rediscovered inside game and he did nothing to even try to prevent it.