Phil Jackson said it best when he uttered his first words during Monday’s post-game podium address, “This was a surprise for us.”
For over a week without a game to analyze, NBA reports have provided nothing but filler regarding the two teams left in the Western Conference. We’ve been fed mercilessly with commentary about injuries such as Andrew Bynum’s knee, Kobe Bryant’s knee and fingers, and Steve Nash’s nose. There were daily discussions in sports radio about Suns’ pick-and-roll versus the Lakers’ triangle offense; Suns’ superior bench versus the Lakers’ inconsistent reserves; Suns’ small line-up compared to the Lakers’ gargantuan frontline.
It has been seven days’ worth of dissecting each team’s strengths and weaknesses. It resulted in the obvious expectation that the Lakers would play big, and the Suns would play quickly. There weren’t many surprises to look forward to… until tonight’s enchanted evening.
The Lakers played their best game of the post-season, even trumping the Game 5, 24-point beat down of the Oklahoma City Thunder so very long ago. Tonight, the Lakers put their foot on the gas on both ends of the floor and sped right through the finish line with a convincing 128-107 victory against the NBA’s hottest team.
Despite falling behind early, with Phoenix’s Steve Nash doing what he does best in orchestrating the Suns’ offense, the Lakers soon found lift upon Lamar Odom’s arrival onto the floor. With a bank-in jumper followed by a spot-up three, Odom evened the score at 22. Kobe Bryant’s off-balance, buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper in front of the Laker bench capped off an 18-4 run that gave the home team a 35-26 advantage to end the first.
A lot has been made of the Suns’ much-improved defense this past season, and especially in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they were still no match against the offensive wiles of one Kobe Bryant, who torched each one of his defenders one by one — Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and any Sun who tried to get in his way (or rather out of his way).
Bryant scored 40 points (21 in the third quarter alone!) on 13-23 shooting, and managed to hand out five assists.
“When Kobe’s in a zone like that,“ Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said, “There’s really nothing you can do about it.”
It was bad enough for the Suns to have Bryant so aggressive offensively, not to mention Gasol who was, again, a model of efficiency scoring 21 points on just 10-13, but did Lamar Odom have to add insult to injury?
“I really didn’t want to wait,” Odom said from the post-game podium, and he sure didn’t. Aside from the quick five points he contributed upon entering in the first quarter, he added 14 more throughout the game. Odom scored on uncontested fingerolls and layups, gliding past every Sun uniform so quickly that they barely noticed him passing by. He scored on second chance points by fighting for rebounds (7 offensive boards). Odom scored 19 points in all on 9-15 shooting, not to mention grabbing 19 rebounds in the process.
Having paved the way for a productive night for the BenchMob, Odom had help from his fellow reserves. Jordan Farmar shot 4-6, hitting 2-3 from downtown, to total 10 points and handed out five assists. Shannon Brown, who went airborne from goodness knows where, almost hit a dunk over Jason Richardson but chipped in 9 points of his own. In limited minutes, even Luke Walton, Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga each contributed a deuce to make the Laker bench contribution a significant one — 44 points, 22 rebounds and 9 assists.
With all the talk of how Phoenix’s bench, who chipped in 35 points, was the Suns’ one advantage over the Lakers, it’s good to see the defending champion reserves put up a fight.
The Laker defense kept the Suns, who averages 115 ppg, to 107. Derek Fisher, again challenged with a skilled point guard, fought over screens and hardly gave Nash any room to work, even forcing a 24-second shot clock violation.
The home team led in practically all statistical categories: FG% (58% to 49%), 3PT% (47% to 23%, the Suns are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league) rebounds (42-34), assists (26-25, excellent when considering who leads the Suns’ offense), steals (8-6), turnovers (9-11). In the end, the better team won. Let’s hope the Lakers remain so throughout… or at least until the middle of June.
Pre-Game Thoughts: Western Conference Finals — FINALLY!
Half-Time Thoughts: Lakers leading 62-55 and shooting 61%! Lamar Odom already has 15 points on 7-9 shooting and eight rebounds.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: It would be easy to give this evening’s honor to Sasha, who fouled Grant Hill on a 3-point attempt with about 1 second left in the first half, but it was his first day back from injury, so he’ll get a pass.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Who to choose? Kobe Bryant with 40 points and 5 assists? Lamar Odom with 19 points and 19 rebounds? Pau Gasol with 21 points and five assists? HOW SPOILED ARE WE?!