Monday, May 17, 2010

Suns v. Lakers Game One: Road Kill

The road Suns got off to a good start, but the Lakers got the good Lamar Odom, and that's a big difference-maker. So even though the Suns were shooting 50% from the floor and looking good, the Lake Show just looked better, with more boards, better free throw shooting, and 4-of-5 from the arc. Even with the Suns getting some tolerable minutes out of returning starter Robin Lopez, they were down 10 halfway through the second. You wouldn't know that the Suns were a good defensive team now, considering that the Lakers were on pace to score 130.

But after back to back slams by the Sun bigs off dribble penetration, sandwiching a Grant Hill shutdown on Kobe isolation, the lead was five, and the Laker half-court game was going deep in the clock for Ron Artest bailouts. Encouraging for the upset, this; it was like the Suns took a body punch, but stayed on their feet.

With 2:20 on the clock in the second, Pau Gasol got an entry pass where Lopez forced a jump ball. Even though the Lakers won the tip and Gasol scored, it was telling, and the next time that Gasol had the ball down low, he passed it out rather than take it up strong. So even as the Lakers were padding the lead back up, I was encouraged, because Lopez looks like he might be able to limit the damage that Gasol does... and Gasol has been the Lakers' best player in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

It was also an odd half for this: Derek Fisher and Grant Hill were clearly having the better of it against Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. That's not likely to last, of course, and whoever breaks through first and best is going to win... and in the final 30 seconds of play, Nash feeds Stoudemire for a stuff, Bryant breaks Hill's ankles leading to a putback stuff, and Hill takes advantage of a dumb Sasha Vujacic foul to convert two of three free throws to close the half. Lakers 62, Suns 55, and the home team is shooting 61% from the floor, and isn't leading by a ton. If the Lakers play their best game, they will win. But it looks like they'll have to.

In the third, it was more of the same, with Kobe hitting an Oh Lord shot at the buzzer, and the Suns answering with Lopez showing improbable sharps at the offensive end. The teams traded buckets in bunches with no stoppages or stops, with Hill getting boned on both ends by the refs, and the zebras answering with a make-good technical on Bryant, and wow, this was so much easier to watch than Celtics-Magic. Hill picked up the first technical of his life, and after three marginal calls and the technical in just over five minutes, I think I see his point.

Richardson starting to feel it, but the Lakers are getting more turnovers, and Bryant is in Hero Mode. A Nash three can't answer, but Gasol turns rather than push the lead past 10. Bryant has 26 as we go to commerce.

Dudley in for Hill, and Kobe doesn't much care. The Suns are getting good looks when they don't turn it, but that's just happening too often, and it's not as if the Lakers are missing anything tonight. Gasol goes to 7-for-10 to push the lead to 12, and a Channing Frye miss makes him 1 of 7 from the field. Gasol feeds Bryant on the baseline with one of those touch passes that only he makes at 7 feet tall, and the lead is suddenly 15. Nash tries to do too much, leading to Bryant with a spike, and this game just got out of hand. Timeout for Phoenix, but the horse has left the barn.

Stoudemire with a miss out of the timeout, and Gasol makes to get things closer to garbage time. Nash stops the bleeding with a free throw jumper. Richardson breaks a string of long-range misses as the Lakers start settling for long-range hot dogging, and another three from him gets it back to 12. The Lakers have a bad possession, but Frye can't keep his feet in bounds, quelling the run. Bryant gets a call on Dudley on a hero drive, and makes both. Richardson barely misses from 30 to end the quarter, and it's Lakers 93, Suns 79. It's looking like one of those games where a hot team just never cools down.

Starting the fourth, the Suns actually get a stop, then Leandro Barbosa gets to the cup... but Shannon Brown gets it right back with the foul. Phil Jackson keeps the starters in against the Suns bench, trying to force garbage time. Interesting. Louis Asmundson with a hustle slam, but a Kobe three makes it 16, and Frybe continues to wear the goat horns with a terrible miss. If he gives them anything before Game 3 in Phoenix, I'll be amazed. Goran Dragic pokes Odom by accident and apologizes, then has his shot blocked twice before getting a goaltend score; Odom's like a pogo stick out there right now. Stoudemire gets to the line to bring it back to 16, and if the Suns could just get some stops, there would be some hope here. But that ain't happening, especially with Bryant hitting again to get 40 points, and they are efficient to boot. So much for his knee being a problem.

Dragic with a make, but it's just trading time as Gasol scores down low and goes to the line. With 9:09 left, the lead is 19, and we're not far away from this one going to forks. Brown tries for the SportsCenter highlight with a Dunk Contest attempt over Richardson, and ye gads, the Lake Show are just going for funsies now. Hard to blame them when every shot is going in; you'd want to ratchet up the degree of difficulty, too.

Brown misses a free throw and pushes the lead to 20 as Bryant rests. Stoudemire misses from mid-range, and the Lakers get a loose ball to Farmer for a found three, and the Lakers are now over 50% from the arc. The Suns miss despite hustle, and Brown adds yet another three; the run is now 10-0. Dragic stops the bleeding, but I doubt you'll see starters again, as Gasol slams on Stoudemire. Richardson's three misses by a foot, then Farmar's layup is just, like many things, too easy. As we are now well past the event horizon of anything mattering very much, I'll turn the diary off now.

Can the Suns make a series out of this? Well, um, probably not. If you want to be encouraged, I guess you take hope from Lopez being useful, and counting on Nash to bounce back. Dragic and Barbosa were also good. But the Lakers just aren't beatable if Odom is going to have a ridiculous night on the boards, and if Bryant is going to be the best player in the NBA... and with 40 points on 23 shots while the game was in any kind of doubt, that's exactly what he was tonight. I expect Game Two to be closer, but I also thought this one wouldn't be a blowout, either...

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