With about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, backup guard Shannon Brown for the Los Angeles Lakers jogged up the court, saw a partially open lane, and took off. He leapt with the intent to do harm. He was trying to suck the gravity out of the building.
He nearly jumped over a cowering Jason Richardson who was called for a block. He missed the dunk, his fingers just edging the rim/net. However, he made everybody stand up out of his or her seats in amazement. That was the kind of night the Lakers were having, even their misses were spectacular.
That play was almost symbolic of the Lakers all season, specifically the bench. They can produce amazing on a nightly basis, and it may have taken a hungry Thunder team to rouse the spirit of the once lethargic Lakers. Once the playoffs have begun, the Lakers have routinely produced as they should, leaving no doubts about how capable this team could be.
Gasol and Bryant were simply extraordinary. Bryant played like it was 2007. He was relishing the Suns’ “stoppers” trying to check him. He was on fire and he knew it. He got into that scary zone where every shot he put up, everybody watching believed it was going in. It wasn’t strictly a scoring tunnel vision, he dished to Pau who returned the favor en route to layups.
Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill? They were no matches for Kobe on this night. Phoenix’s “improved” defense looked hapless for most of the game, especially in the third quarter. Kobe shredded this defense, which thrives on trying to hide Amare, Nash, and sometimes Richardson from scoring threats.
Gasol was equally gorgeous, description that is not normally associated with the Spaniard. Dwight Howard should view his low post game on a constant loop. Fall aways for an awkward looking seven-foot forward/center? Spins, midrange jumpshot, effortless passing are all in his repertoire. All utilized.
The Suns were helpless to combat the length of the Lakers, which has become an annoyance to keep hearing about. Any long rebound Phoenix was not going to come up with. Odom, Gasol, and Bynum when he was able to stay on the court were getting rebounds on the regular.
Derek Fisher, who had become synonymous with point guard whipping boy, played inspired defense (at least inspired for Derek Fisher). The Suns become an east-west team, and if you know about football you know that is not a good thing. The pick-and-roll was greatly disturbed by the Lakers’ length and insistence on fighting through instead of under the screens.
Lamar Odom showed why he is frustrating to fans and opponents alike. These types of games would have people believe that he has and had All-Star potential. The next game is always a mystery for Odom. He could have an encore performance, or he could totally disappear. X-factor is played out; he is more the radio to the car. It may still operate, but when properly used it is a much better ride. He gives the Lakers more flexibility when he plays well. I think 19 and 19 qualifies.
Not to mention Ron Artest playing on both ends of the floor. He has gone through the Artest version of a metamorphosis this season. He came in confused and jacking up 3-point shots to battle through mystification, and now he hesitates, sometimes to his detriment, and defers to Kobe and Pau.
The Lakers were playing gregarious basketball. They didn’t play great defense, but they played great offense. At what point does the best player in the world debate heat back up. How many 30-point games in a row does Kobe need to reprove his merits? He is up to six now while a certain King rests on his throne at home, waiting for July to slowly creep up on the basketball world.
Again, I must caution myself after each of these game ones, realizing series change rapidly and momentum shifts seemingly by the dribble. However, the Lakers looked plain superior to the Suns. One game doesn’t define a series, especially not game 1. Teams will adjust, shooting will go cold or heat up, and intensity can lessen or exaggerate. The Suns don’t look good enough to beat the Lakers, but they can make it a series.