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NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 1: Everything's coming up Lakers

May 18, 2010, 12:02 AM EDT

kobe-wcf-game1.pngGame 1 of the Western Conference Finals made one thing abundantly clear: unless the Suns are able to come up with some truly remarkable performances, the Lakers will win this series. L.A. is so talented and so long that they’ll receive the benefit of the doubt in almost every regard, and barring a transcendent performance from Steve Nash or Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix will lose.

Call it cheap analysis if you will, but the Lakers are better. They are not going to melt down in this series, which puts the onus on the Suns. It’s up to Phoenix to somehow stop the unstoppable force in purple and gold and manage to see the sky through the trees.

I wouldn’t say Game 1 was necessarily par for the course (the Lakers’ offense scored at a rate of 139.1 points per 100 possessions, a truly scorching level of efficiency) but L.A.’s dominance in their 128-107 victory was not unfounded.

Los Angeles has a much better shot at stopping Phoenix’s offense than vice versa, and the Lakers exposed that painful truth in their complete dissection of the Suns’ vaunted, improved defense. Kobe’s 40 has to be the centerpiece, and his 21-point third quarter was the type of noteworthy performance that so frequently gets lost in the playoff shuffle. If the Lakers go on to win the championship, few will remember Bryant’s 21-point Q on a mid-May night, no matter how it demoralized the Suns’ defenders.

That said, we may not see a more singularly dominant stretch of basketball from any Laker this postseason, and for that Kobe deserves to be recognized. Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, and Jason Richardson all did their best to defend Bryant. They fought for position, tried to deny, and challenged shots. It didn’t matter, because Kobe is so, so good at what he does. When Bryant is in that special place, the bucket is less a possible outcome and more an inevitability. That’s what the Suns were charged with stopping tonight, and it’s what the Jazz failed to stop at times in their four-game out in the previous round.

I’d love to say that Kobe is destined for a fall back to earth at some point, but the guy has scored 30+ in every game he’s played since April 27th. He’s done it with plenty of time off and just a day off, at home and away, by shooting 45% from the field or better, against three different opponents, and with one notable constant: winning. Kobe is putting up impressive totals and guiding the Lakers to the promised land, two results that have not always coincided. During this playoff run however, they seem almost inextricable, with just two of the Lakers’ nine wins coming in sub-30-point performances for Bryant.

As always seems to be the case with these Lakers, he wasn’t alone. Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds) was ridiculously effective, and looked right at home working against Amar’e Stoudemire. Pau Gasol wasn’t nearly as good on the boards (or rather, didn’t have to be as good on the boards), but had 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting.

Those two players best exemplified the problems with the Suns’ defense; Hill et al’s defense on Bryant may have been an exercise in futility, but the Suns’ D on Odom and Gasol was more of a demonstration of their ineptitude. Even if you buy the argument that the Suns are improved on defense this season, those improvements amounted to nothing against players as skilled, as versatile, and as big as Gasol and Odom.

Throw in some beautiful discretion from Ron Artest, better-than-expected defense from Derek Fisher, and solid play from the Lakers’ bench, and it would be a wonder if the Lakers didn’t win in a walk.

Los Angeles wasn’t exactly perfect on defense, though, even if they did manage to prevent Phoenix from scoring at maximum efficiency. The Suns benefited from a balanced offensive performance, featuring six double-digit scorers who were able to attack the Lakers’ D in a variety of ways. However, the Lakers’ true battle was fought — and won — against the Suns’ pick-and-roll.

Robin Lopez (14 points 6-7 FG, six rebounds) looked great rolling to the rim and working the offensive glass, but even his impressive playoff debut wasn’t enough to overcome the Lakers’ smothering of Steve Nash and assault on the passing lanes. Phoenix found ways to move the ball, but the great looks the Suns are accustomed to getting were merely good ones, and considering Phoenix’s considerable defensive troubles, that was more than enough to drop Game 1 into L.A.’s lap.

As I mentioned before, Steve Nash (13 points, 13 assists, four turnovers) and Amar’e Stoudemire (23 points, just three boards) can’t just show up and play. They have to seriously perform if Phoenix is going to have any shot in this series. They’ll need to execute tirelessly on the offensive end, not only to provide the bulk of the offense, but to open up the game for the Suns’ shooters. In a sense, you have a situation in Phoenix similar to that in Orlando, only instead of relying on Dwight Howard’s interior dominance as an offensive foundation, this team relies on the Nash-Stoudemire tandem.

Without that regular offensive threat, the Suns shooters were blanketed on the perimeter, as evidenced by the team’s 22.7% shooting from beyond the arc. That’s more than just a cold night, even if every miss from the perimeter can’t be attributed to L.A.’s close-outs. Jared Dudley (1-5 3FG) and Channing Frye (1-7 3FG) were forced into some contested looks and were out of rhythm when they finally found the space to fire unimpeded.

If you’re looking for one side of the ball to attribute blame, the offense wasn’t it for Phoenix. The Suns’ offensive efficiency in this game (116.3 points per 100 possessions) was actually higher than their season average. As I mentioned before though, the Suns will have to be good enough on offense to make up for their major defensive flaws, and until we see even a spark of that in this series, the games will continue to default Lakers.

  1. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 18, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    I’m not surprised though this isn’t a knock on the Suns. The Lakers are very much capable of doing this type of game against the elite teams. In this case, they made effective translation of potential to kinetic. I just hope that they be continuously consistent. Getting the killer instinct is what LA should always have. They cannot afford to be complacent and take the Suns for granted. Go Lakers! The Suns won’t just set into that good night without a good fight.

  2. stan - May 18, 2010 at 4:01 AM

    damn.i was hoping the suns would halt the reign of the lakers..anyway there is still hope.

  3. Lakers4Lyfe - May 18, 2010 at 5:37 AM

    … we tried to tell you fools!! That was the single-best performance in the playoffs to date by Kobe. Get ready for more. Double team Kobe? OK, get burned in the post. Lakers have too many weapons. The Suns have no answer for this. Arizona, watch what a championship team looks like … see you in 5, maybe a sweep. We tried to warn you fools, now you had to see the Black Mamba for yourselves.

  4. george - May 18, 2010 at 6:58 AM

    Who is the KING? I hope we can put all that nonsense talk behind us now for good, because the REAL King resides in LA and not on Lake Erie. Jester James will never win anything while Kobe is still in the game. BTW I am a Miami Heat fan.

  5. geno - May 18, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    To beat the Suns all you have to do is dog Nash the whole game like Fisher did and front Amare. Amare after 8 yrs still cant post up with his back to the basket. He has only 2 shots. One is 2-3 ft from the basket with a sky dunk. If he dribbles more than one time he loses the ball before he dunks it. The other shot he has is the 10-12 foot jumper which good teams will let him shoot all day.
    Gasol has several different shots and can post up with his back to the basket. Amare has never learned to do that. If the Suns dont win the next one they will be going fishing early.

  6. Kutt - May 18, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    I’m wondering why was Lebron given the mvp award when he can’t win anything. Kobe is clearly better but the nba wants that next Jordan so bad that they can’t open their eyes to to reality. Please stop cheating the man.

  7. DeeZ - May 18, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    Lakers fans…Don’t get dissapointed like Lebron’s fans.

  8. Luis - May 18, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    You know the saying: If Lebron is the King, them Kobe must be GOD!!!!, no doubt who is more valuable right now!

  9. ocgunslinger - May 18, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    RE: Deez’s comment. Uhhhh Bryant and the Lakers ARE STILL PLAYING while LeBron is WATCHING. What disappointment????

  10. Bill-Sonora - May 18, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    DeeZ, the LAKERS are a CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM. Please dont compare them to the cavs least of all Lebrick James.

  11. nick - May 18, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Kobe was exceptional in the 3rd quarter, no doubt. But the reason why the Lakers win is their incredible length and skill at the 3,4, and 5 positions.
    Hands down, no team in the NBA has the size and skill to match them in the paint. Dwight Howard is the biggest defensive force in the league, but the Lakers have 3-4 excellent, athletic and big post defenders, which is better than one dominant big man. If Andrew Bynum was fully healthy, I think the Lakers might have one of the best frontcourts in NBA history. Kobe is just the icing on the cake.
    Stoudemire has no chance scoring in the post – he’s gotta be hitting like 80% of those jumpers to be effective at all.
    As well, Lamar Odom is really, really good, probably the most underrated player on the team.
    I hate the Lakers and I hate Kobe BRyant, but I cant see any team in the league beating them in a playoff series

  12. Gary - May 18, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Yep – Let’s all watch the media jump on that Laker bandwagon again. And let’s watch the refs give them an easy ride to another championship.
    Dynasties are boring.

  13. Ron - May 18, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Regarding your comment about the refs…if you believe the game is rigged, then why do you watch? I don’t watch WWF for that reason. Your comment is a total non-sequitor.

  14. Ron - May 18, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Don’t worry, Lakers fans are NEVER disappointed. With 30 appearances in the finals and 15 championships, we are very happy fans indeed. :)
    Make that 31 and 16 this year. It’s inevitable, DeeZ. :)

  15. Joseph - May 18, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    Dial “M” for the “Black Mamba” and Hail to El Gasol and the Laker Armada! WHat else is there to say?
    Ciao
    Joseph

  16. lakers#1 - May 18, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    suns fans must be ready to back up and go fishing…thats where you belong..

  17. Omnius - May 18, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    The Lakers are too tall, too great and just too focused on winning another championship. The Lost Suns of arizona are just mere pretenders and the Lakers exposed these overachievers for what they are, mere pretenders. Lakers in 5, but then they may just have broiught their brooms to the party and will sweep the setting arizona Lost Suns.

  18. David - May 18, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Won’t happen, Lakers are schooling the Suns in the art of “payback” for ’06 and ’07.

  19. RLD - May 18, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    Yes the Laka’s r a dynasty that runs like a F1 car in every aspect from the owner to the players coaches, asst’s , scouts etc. That is why we are # 1 back to back yeah

  20. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 18, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    That my friend,is called ENVY. It isn’t our fault if our franchise has a CONTINUOUS and CONSISTENT tradition of NBA excellence. When others have yet to enter the playoffs and win at least a game, ours have been there to the Promised Land and back — many times over at that!
    Getting Sweet 16 with an ominous 31 Finals appearance as well as the winningest team in playoffs history, Laker Nation has left the rest behind like Lambo Maranello on a pack of mini-Suzukis.

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