Well thank goodness Andrew Bynum comes back on Friday. Maybe with him will return the Lakers’ defense. Tonight was an exciting offensive show for the masses, but the defending champions turned what could have been a quick victory in the third quarter, into a long-winded night…and we watched, agonized and loved every last second of it.
Their 89-68 lead with less than five minutes left in the third quarter turned into a nine-point lead when the fourth quarter opened. Three and a half minutes later, Phoenix’s new import, Aaron Brooks scored from behind the arc and the Laker advantage was down to a single point. It was a back and forth battle of offensive wills at that point, with neither team interested in applying any defensive pressure. And then it happened.
One overtime. Two overtimes. Three overtimes.
Finally, at the end of 63 minutes of game time, the Lakers prevailed
In the second game of Andrew Bynum’s suspension, Lamar Odom again came into the starting line-up to fill in the gap; though the disclaimer remains that he does so much more than just “fill in.” Odom, for the night, play over 55 minutes, scored 29 points on 13-22, grabbed 16 rebounds, handed out 5 assists, blocked a shot and had zero turnovers. Despite fouling Channing Frye in the act of shooting a three-pointer (which resulted in three made free throws and led to the second overtime), he remained calm through the next 10 minutes of game time, fighting for rebounds and helping his team get over the hump. Odom said that one of the things he learned most about participating in the FIBA championships last summer was how to play tired. In a game like tonight’s, that lesson sure came in handy.
Another resilient Laker was man of steel, Kobe Bryant. In his last three games, Bryant had shot just 37% from the field. Tonight he came alive with 42 points on a more acceptable 15-31. He came within one assist of a triple double, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out 9 dimes. Bryant hasn’t looked this comfortable with his jumper since spraining his ankle in Dallas more than a week ago. He shot 3-5 from behind the arc and made 9-11 from the free throw line. His caveat for the evening, however, was a handful of miscues that led to pivotal turnovers resulting in Phoenix scoring. He too often dribbled the shot clock away before deciding to drive it in, giving the Suns too much time to plan for his attack. He went iso when he should have moved the ball, and drove into a swarm of defenders instead of hitting the open teammate. In the grand scheme of a triple overtime game, however, the Lakers wouldn’t have had a chance had it not been for Bryant’s late-game heroics – a pull-up jumper towards the end of the fourth quarter, and another late in the second OT; then a three-pointer and a floater in the third and final overtime. Like Joel and Stu always say, having Kobe Bryant on your team will always provide you a chance to win in the end.
Pau Gasol had another shifty shooting night, going just 9-25 for his 24 points, but he made shots when it counted and his team needed every bit of his scoring prowess to get this victory. He finished with 13 rebounds and handed out 3 assists and took 2 steals, but for three quarters collected just 7 of his 13 boards. Whether he had grown accustomed to Bynum’s rebounding tear of late is irrelevant. In a game against a Suns team with little size and no post-game, he should have had 13 rebounds by halftime. The “soft” label has surely grown tired when it comes to Pau Gasol because he has proven his toughness, both mentally and physically, in the last two championship runs. But his defensive deficiencies can hardly be masked, especially this season. He was no match for a less talented but more aggressive and emphatic Marcin Gortat. Quick guards that Bynum takes pride in stopping, outsmart and out-step the Spaniard. The paint is open access when he is on watch. How will the Lakers fare if, in the post-season, Bynum encounters foul trouble and Gasol has to fill in? Unfortunately, savvy offense does not remedy uninspired defensive efforts. In the end, however, Gasol hit two clutch free throws when he accepted a pass in traffic from Bryant and got fouled in the last seconds of the second overtime.
Helping win tonight’s game were also Matt Barnes, Ron Artest and, despite his off offensive night, Derek Fisher. Barnes came off the bench to score 13 points on 6-9 from the field. He was the only productive reserve, with Shannon Brown and Luke Walton doing more harm than good in their participation tonight. What the Lakers missed in Barnes’ absence, is his activity without the ball in his hands, allowing him to cut to the hoop to catch passes and score, which he did tonight.
Ron Artest, the all-too-enthusiastic Laker, had 18 points on 7-14, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and kisses for the crowd. Artest’s contributions to this win were everywhere – poking the ball away from Vince Carter, hitting 3 of his 5 three point attempts, stealing then dunking to give the Lakers a five-point lead in the closing minutes of the third overtime.
And Derek Fisher, who only scored two points, but it was WHEN he scored them that counted – the last seconds of the first overtime. He also made some key steals (four for the night), and stuck himself to Steve Nash until the end.
Phoenix made 17 of their 41 attempts from the arc, and Channing Frye led the Suns with 32 points on 11-23. Nash, Phoenix’s floor general, had 19 points on 7-15, hitting 5-7 from three. He also had 20 assists! When you allow Nash to score as efficiently as he distributes the ball in a game, it will indeed be a long night…such as tonight was for the home team.
Yes, it was a long night for the Lakers, but talk about testing your will when you’ve played as long as they did tonight. They lost that 21-point lead but didn’t dwell. Each overtime was another opportunity to get that 51st win, and with that determination, they remain in their 2-spot in the Western Conference. Bynum is back against the Clippers on Friday (phew!), but without him they managed to survive, no matter how much it took to do it. It’s just too bad that tonight’s only counts as one game.
P.S. Did you see the Staples Center tonight, GQ magazine? It was full of loud, cheering fans from tip-off to the third and final buzzer. You can take that “Laker fans are the worst” award and hand it to someone else.
Pre-game Thoughts: The last time the Lakers met the Suns, it rained threes – 22 of them. Phoenix will surely try to win from outside but the Lakers mustn’t be tempted to respond in kind. Play your offense from inside and defend the three, not to mention penetration by Steve Nash and Aaron Brooks.
Half-time Thoughts: 60-66 – Phoenix shot 51% from the field while the Lakers shot 54%. 3 turnovers for the Suns and 2 for the home team. Conclusion? Neither team is playing much defense in this game – IF ANY AT ALL. The Lakers played Phoenix’s running game and suffered in the first half with a 17-2 disadvantage in fast break points. Yes, they’ve been able to keep up with their offense, but if they don’t slow the game down and start working the boards, they’re in for a long evening of sprinting back and forth. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant lead the game with 14 points each, Lamar Odom’s got 13 of his own, and Ron Artest has chipped in 10 points. There is enough offense to go around. Come correct in the second half and play the Suns out of this game with some defense.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Laker defense – They may have found it in the end, but to lose a 21-point lead? That triple overtime – or that first overtime, wouldn’t even have been necessary had the Lakers taken care of closing out the Suns in the third quarter.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: To commemorate the triple overtime, tonight there were three thoughtful Lakers worth mentioning. 1) Lamar Odom – efficient from beginning to end and zero turnovers 2) Kobe Bryant – ready 24/7, had a huge game and a near triple double 3) Ron Artest – played defense, rebounded, passed the ball and on top of that, scored!