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.
The Lakers, who dominated the Suns in the first two games with their own inside advantages, decided that 32 attempts from beyond the arc would be worth a try and they suffered because of it, converting only nine. By halftime, they had already attempted 13 three-pointers and made three. The Lakers only scored 15 points in that second quarter.
While Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher kept the Lakers alive with their offense (they combined for 77 of the team’s 109 points), Lamar Odom and Ron Artest left theirs in Los Angeles with 1-11 from the field for the entire first half. A quiet offensive night is sometimes credited to a greater defensive effort, but Odom and Artest did little to stop the likes of Stoudemire and Jason Richardson, who hit 4-7 from downtown.
Odom, whose effort is often defined by the number of rebounds he collects, grabbed 30 boards in the first two games, but only had six tonight. He also settled far too much for perimeter shots rather than attacking the basket, where he has been so successful. Odom said after the first game that if he was going to have a bad game, he wanted to go down swinging. With 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 fouls (talk about a foreboding combination of stats!), he had a bad game, but there was very little swing in him tonight.
By the third quarter, it appeared the Lakers had figured out how to work around the Suns’ zone defense, outscoring the home team 37-32 to make it a 2-point game before the final period.
“We adjusted ok offensively,” Bryant said, “but defensively we couldn’t get stops.”
And there, along with their overconfidence from the 3-point line, is where the Lakers lost this game — their lack of defensive efforts, not to mention their 17 turnovers to the Suns’ six.
While the Lakers may have lost this game, a game that often goes in favor of the home team in a best of seven series, they still shot a respectable 48% and the Suns shot almost the same with 46%. The goals for Game 4 should be obvious: limit the 3-point attempts and play Laker ball, defend… better, take care of the rock, and don’t come back to Los Angeles with the series tied.
Pre-Game Thoughts: A 3-0 lead in the series would be oh so sweet.
Half-time Thoughts: Lakers in a 7-point hole and appear a little out of sorts. No one but Kobe and Pau has had any kind of offensive rhythm tonight.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: The Lakers frontline who let Amar’e Stoudemire and Robin Lopez do anything they wanted. Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and, despite his offensive efficiency, Pau Gasol did very little defensively to stop… anyone in a Suns jersey really.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: The Phoenix Suns, for reminding everyone that they are not to be mistaken for the Orlando Magic.