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NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 2: Showcasing the impressive, empowered, and balanced Laker offense

May 20, 2010, 3:31 AM EDT

bryant.pngAfter the Lakers’ dominant performance in Game 1, Alvin Gentry wisely noted that “[the Suns] can survive a Kobe game, but [they] can’t survive a Lamar game, and
then Pau playing extremely well, and then Jordan Farmar really coming
in and having a solid game and then Artest playing the way he is.”

He was right, in a sense. Gentry’s statement deserves clarification, though: the Suns can survive a big scoring game from Kobe, but not necessarily a big game from Kobe. Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals could be Bryant’s best performance of the postseason so far, and he only scored 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting. The real gem in Kobe’s stat line was his 13-assist mark, and it was Bryant’s facilitation of a brilliant Laker offense that brought L.A. their eighth consecutive win.

Kobe’s 13 assists not only set a personal best for his playoff career, but according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, it was the highest assist total by any Laker since Magic Johnson matched the mark in 1997.

Of course, the immediate relevance of Kobe’s terrific performance is far more pressing than its historical context. It’s nice to know how this one game stacks up in comparison to Kobe’s other playoff performances and those of his fellow Lakers, but it’s far more crucial at this stage to understand and embrace just how much he helped his team to take a commanding 2-0 series lead last night.

The Suns are not a strong defensive team, regardless of their current reputation. That said, the most prominent story coming out of Game 2 should not be how Phoenix lost the game, but how Los Angeles won it. Stories of failure make for far more compelling theater, but in this case the Suns’ poor defense was only the catalyst for the loss. The Lakers, fueled by ball movement that was epitomized but not limited to Bryant’s assists, played like the elite offensive outfit that they are.

It’s a bit unfair that Bryant’s performance stole the show, especially considering how ridiculously effective Pau Gasol (29 points, nine rebounds, five assists) was in the fourth quarter. Gasol was a go-to option for the Lakers down the stretch, and though the Suns were within striking distance at points in the fourth, it was Pau’s scoring — not Bryant’s — that pushed Los Angeles over the top.

I think what makes Kobe’s night stand out amongst that of his teammates was how unique his playmaking was. A number of Lakers were productive scorers — Ron Artest finished with 18 points, Lamar Odom with 17, Andrew Bynum with 13, and Jordan Farmar with 11 — and all of them willing passers as well, but none of those contributors are in a position to defer.

Gasol was fantastic. He was put in a situation to succeed due to his skills, match-up, and circumstances, and he came through in flying colors. He’s still the second fiddle on this team though, and his dominance was by design. The Lakers (or more appropriately, Kobe) worked through Gasol with the game on the line, and he produced.

I know this all may seem like undue lavishing of an oft-praised star, but Kobe will always lie at the crux of what the Lakers hope to accomplish. In Game 2, he faced pressure but did anything but struggle. There will obviously be times between now and the end of the Lakers’ season where L.A. will need more than 21 points from Bryant to win, but his scoring in those situations is no more important than his willing deference in others.

That’s when Gasol will truly shine. It’s when Odom will go from from invisible to ever-present, and when Artest will command defensive attention. As the Celtics continue their quest to upset the Magic in the East, keep these Lakers at the back of your mind. They’re out for blood, championship-ready, and clicking both mentally and physically.

  1. Bill-Sonora - May 20, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    I worry that the Lakers are having it too easy with the Suns lack of defense and I hope they wont struggle with Boston[‘s much better defense. I had the same worry 2 years ago when the Lakers faced them in the Finals.

  2. Bbelric31 - May 20, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    No worries, Phil will have them focused.

  3. ocgunslinger - May 20, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    When the big machine is focused on the NBA Championship, It doesn’t matter because their confidence is reflecting their dominance. The Thunder woke them up and the timing was perfect.
    All that being said, it should be a fantastic series IF it is the Lakers Vs the Celtics. The Celtics are also playing team ball, are focused and dominating as well right now. But….GO LAKERS!!!!

  4. LaxYul - May 20, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Green Toast

  5. La4lifeDontHate - May 20, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Celtics….Heltics….look at the numbers the Lakers are putting up…even the Suns for that matter…(Celtic’s)they will be lucky if they win 1 game…the Lakers are a well oiled machine..and it couldn’t be at a better time! I think the Thunder was their toughest match up…and when the Lakers throw down..watch out someone is getting knocked the —- out!!! how is Kobe playing with 2 miles of tape on that finger…damm this guy is good…then you have Pau…Artest..and on and on !!! ad the most underated player Odom….who is making the difference in the Suns series!!

  6. Mario De La Torre - May 20, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    Bill, you have to take into consideration that this Laker team is not the same team that played the Celtics in 2008. Yeah, many of the same players are still there but the chemistry is totally different. The Lakers took care of the Celtics during the season matchups with no problems. The Lakers got this….

  7. cc - May 20, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Its still the same old lakers that can’t beat celts

  8. Police Blotter - May 20, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Kobe should break out into a rape-spree anytime now!

  9. sap - May 20, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    I want the suns to win, but I think the lakers are going to win.
    The lakers may beat the suns but they will never beat the celtics.
    I really hate the lakers and coby. I guess thats only becouse they are so good, My hate is out of respect. My problem is even if the suns win, they are not going to beat the celtics eather. I give it to the celtics all the way.

  10. TKO - May 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    It’s Kobe not Coby, it’s because not becouse, it’s either not eather. It’s Lakers all the way not Celtics.

  11. Markus - May 20, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    The difference between the last title run that ended with a trouncing by the Celts is that the Lakers faced adversity throughout the season as well as in that first round. The year they lost to the Celts in the finals, the lakers cruised all season and through the early round of the playoffs. The lakers as a unit are more polished than the team that was crushed by the Celts. The most worrisome aspect will be Bynums knee and if it holds up. He will be the key vs. an aging but formidable and very physical Celts team.

  12. tr - May 20, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Hey Sap is that your name or what you are? First of all its KOBE secondly, either is spelled with an I.
    The Lakers handled Boston with ease during the season and will do the same in the Finals.
    Purple and Gold!

  13. Dan - May 20, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    sap,
    Why are you hating on Coby Karl? Do you realize he’s not even with the Lakers anymore? That’s just cold…

  14. Omnius - May 20, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Showtime is Back in LA Baby! Kobe Bryant showed his Magic Johnson act last night with his brilliant passing. He’s a virtuoso conductor waving his Magic Wand as he guides the Laker offense to greatness. No doubts left now that we will enjoy another rendition of the greatest sport rivalry – Lakers/Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Lakers will gain revenge on Gang Green just as they are gaining revenge on the arizona Setting Suns!

  15. Peezie - May 20, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Why is everyone hating on sap’s ineptitude with his spelling/grammar? English is not everyone’s primary language and to give someone a hard time about that is just wrong. That being said…sap, you are obviously a Sun’s fan (and that’s okay)…and if you live in Arizona, watch out homeboy…the cops might ask you for your papers. Hopefully you’ll have them & can avoid deportation so that you can stay and watch the Lakers go on to sweep the Sun’s out of the playoffs and beat Boston in 6.

  16. DCMentalAssasin - May 20, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    You can’t teach tough and these Lakers just aren’t tough enough. Lets see if they can pull out a win when the score is between 80 and 90.. Bynum and Odom will be shut down along with Pau. Kobe can score 60 for all they care. All those bench players aren’t gonna have it easy anymore. The D will crush them then they have no answer for Sheed KG Pierce both Allens Perkins and Rondo. Its gonna be a great series but Boston is gonna once again step on thier necks.

  17. Hoops McCann - May 20, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    Can’t teach toughness? That’s what everyone said after the Celtics beat the Lakers in 1984. The Lakers then learned their lesson and trounced the same Boston team in 85 and 87. Almost identical to the present situation in that these Lakers remember 2008 and won’t make that “too soft” mistake again.

  18. jonnymac - May 20, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    (background sounds of an arena crowd chanting loudly): “MVP”…..”MVP”…”MVP”…”MVP”
    oh wait, they gave it to that other guy…..what a joke!….Go Lakers!!!!!!

  19. jonnymac - May 20, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    (background sounds of an arena crowd chanting loudly): “MVP”…..”MVP”…”MVP”…”MVP”
    oh wait, they gave it to that other guy…..what a joke!….Go Lakers!!!!!!

  20. Tony - May 20, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    I suppose that I’m somewhat biased, since year-after-year, there is only one team that I loathe. It is the Lakers. Let’s go Suns! I would very honestly rather see ANY OTHER TEAM win the championship.

  21. Tony - May 20, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    I suppose that I’m somewhat biased, since year-after-year, there is only one team that I loathe. It is the Lakers. Let’s go Suns! I would very honestly rather see ANY OTHER TEAM win the championship.

  22. WhiteGirlWithBrownSpot - May 20, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    Kobe, NO MEANS NO!… unless the courts scare you into paying me alot of $$$.

  23. ED - May 20, 2010 at 1:33 PM

    Celts were not playing in the regular season because of injuries.
    The series will go 7 and injuries will decide the outcome!
    McHale is teaching them take down fouls! Just kidding!

  24. Jake - May 20, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    I am first and foremost a Laker fan, but even I have a fear of this Celtics team with Rajon Rondo playing out of his head right now. He will be the difference in a series against Boston. If the Lakers can neutralize him (no easy task) then they will win this series. But if he throws up numbers like 20-12-7 throughout the series then the Lakers are in for trouble.
    The Lakers are playing very well right now, but they have not yet played a great team defense like Boston’s yet either in the playoffs.
    L.A. will definitely not be putting up 120 a night vs. the Celtics.

  25. Ed - May 20, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    Stern allows Lakers as only team without a salary cap. LeBron will be a Laker next year along with Wade.

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