The key thing to remember is that all hope is not lost. Hey, this game was tied 90-90 going into the fourth quarter. The Suns were riding a tidal wave of momentum with Grant Hill routinely draining the very mid-range jumpshot while Kobe or any of his backups relaxed their defense on the senior citizen of the NBA world.
Jared Dudley essentially couldn’t miss a three-point shot and his hounding defense, while not stopping 24, certainly did enough to create disruptions for LA’s offense. The backups came in and provided the spark that Phoenix needed. They were crashing the glass to some impact, hounding the ball in the backcourt, and creating turnovers.
They scored in the triple digits, they shot the ball much better (especially from beyond the arc), and forced more turnovers. Jason Richardson, the key to many Suns’ victories, scored 27 points.
That was the good. The bad?
Phoenix still lost. They utilized their small lineup, then the Lakers brought in their famed length and dominated the boards. I mean, when Amare is your biggest player, you aren’t going to win a lot of rebounds.
Steve Nash was not effective shooting the ball, and late in the game it looked very much forced and not in the flow of the offense. Amare wasn’t dominant in any way. They couldn’t defend any of the post players. They decided to stop Kobe, doubling him, and left Ron Artest open en route to clutch three-point shots.
Pau Gasol continues to demonstrate an artist’s mastery of his canvas, which is admittedly easier to do when Kobe Bryant is on your team. Still, he isn’t a power player despite his size but he dominates Amare or Lopez or Frye or Almundson. If they double, he is too good to not find the open man even if he sits in his blind spot.
Lamar Odom lucked his way to another double-double. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar hit key threes when Kobe drew in the double like a master bull fighter. Everything was clicking for the Lakers. Even when the game was tied, there wasn’t a sense that LA was in serious jeopardy.
They seem in complete control of the series, which takes an unnecessarily long respite until it resumes on Sunday, mirroring its Eastern twin in time away. Going back to Phoenix, the Suns had better hope the desert is very forgiving. Maybe they will find that they forgot to pack their vaunted “improved” defense and bring it with them to the arena on Sunday.
Maybe those Laker role players wont have the same confidence in their jumpshot wearing the purple uniforms. Maybe Nash can light up Derek Fisher, who looks determined to prove he isn’t the Western Conference version of Mo Williams. Maybe Amare isn’t so “nervous” going home, although the pressure is now squarely on Phoenix’s shoulders.
They need a lot of things to change. And maybe it will happen. Momentum can change quickly. It isn’t unheard of to beat a better Lakers team at home, remember the Rockets? Or Thunder? Phoenix is better than either of those teams, maybe not match-up wise but still. Like I said before, this series is all about who establishes their will. Maybe Phoenix is able to find comfort at home and impose their will.
Or maybe the Lakers will continue to fluster with their length and adept three-point shooting. If that is the case, this series will be short lived.
Kobe might be on a mission this series, and hopefully for the rest of the playoffs. What his purpose or statement is isn’t totally clear. The thought has been floated he is out to prove he is in fact, still the best player in the league. Maybe he has taken Phoenix’s version of a Kobe “stopper” as an insult. It doesn’t really matter, any slight, real or imaginary, will only fuel his fire, which burns the hottest in the league.