Lakers 108, Phoenix 88: Second verse, same as the first
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes the camera battery kicks it before a postgame video can be recorded. Sunday night at Staples, there was a little of all three. With a 108-88 victory, their ninth straight, the Lakers made losers out of the Suns, and as you can see, we ran out of talking picture juice. But honestly, had Andy and I recorded something, it would a) likely have forced us to miss games and head to Cannes to seal some sort of three picture deal, so good it would have been, and b) sounded a lot like the one from the first time these teams met, a 121-102 win for the purple and gold back on Nov. 12.
There were certainly strong similarities between the two games, beyond the large margin of victory. Start with another great performance from Kobe Bryant. Sunday night, he went for an easy, breezy 26 on 9-16 shooting, including a pair of triples in four attempts, with seven boards and three assists to round out the line. Just as it was in November, the Lakers built out a nice halftime lead (10 points) and increased it in the third quarter (up to 21).
But the biggest similarity was in the style of game the Lakers played. It was smart. It played to strengths. It was efficient. It was disciplined.
And once again, it nourished fans both figuratively (Monday morning is always better after a 20 point win) and literally (tacos for all the people). Breakdown below...
I think we can all agree that if asked to create NBA kryptonite for this year's Suns squad, it would look a lot like the Lakers. Length, mobility, dominating post play, and so on. Generally speaking I like to avoid grand proclamations so early in the season, but I'm comfortable declaring that there is absolutely no earthly way Phoenix would beat a healthy Lakers team in a playoff series. None. Something under zero, really. But the Suns are 15-4 vs. the rest of the league. That's worth something, and Sunday night the Lakers beat them by 20. That's worth something, too.
-Defense, defense, defense: In the first quarter, things didn't look so good. The Suns shot 57% from the floor, fueled by a 4-6 frame from Amar'e Stoudamire (eight points), and 3-4 from Steve Nash. The two-time MVP also dished out seven assists, and overall the Suns had nine helps on their 12 field goals. Meaning they were getting into the lane for layups or setting up open jumpers at other spots on the floor. Once the second twelve kicked off, though, it was all Lakers. They put a lid on the Phoenix, limiting them to 30.4% in the second quarter, and rendering Alvin Gentry's Big Two (just saw them play a killer set at the Wiltern, by the way) ineffective for the rest of the game. Despite the fast start, Nash finished with 12/10, and Stoudamire scored only 10 points in the final three quarters.
The Lakers did great work against the pick and roll, and their defensive versatility was on full display. Because the Lakers have so many guys who can guard a wide variety of players, as the game went along it was hard for Phoenix to create mismatches off high screens. Whenever Phoenix made a push, as they did in the third quarter, cutting LA's lead to nine with 3:40 to go, the Lakers created pressure and forced turnovers. Three of 'em in the last three minutes of the third (threes are wild, apparently) helped the Lakers push their lead back to 21 heading into the fourth. All of this good defense came without fouling. Phoenix averages 25 free throws a night. Sunday, they visited the stripe only 11 times.
-Offensive discipline: A game against the Suns is as much about what a team doesn't do as what it does. Most pros like to run, get out in the open floor, and score. That's all well and good, except the Suns generally speaking do it better. The Lakers ignored the mermaids. On an average night, the Lakers attempt a league leading 87 shots a night. Sunday, they slowed things down, worked the clock, and finished with 81. They took plenty of threes (21), and while poorly timed treys can serve as tinder to ignite Phoenix's running game, the way the Lakers generally did it- from the inside-out after the Suns collapsed on entry passes to the post- provided the home team with a staggering amount of wide open looks and mitigated the damage from long rebounds. It's hard for Phoenix to get out on the break when most of them are milling about near the paint.
The Lakers may not have a reputation as dagger tossing gunners from downtown, but they're more than capable of sticking shots taken in rhythm with nary a defender in sight. That helps explain how LA lit up the Suns like a Christmas tree from beyond the arc (46.7%).
The Lakers also took care of the rock, turning the ball over only 11 times. Combine that with good shot selection and solid transition defense, and it's easy to see how the Suns were limited to 12 fast break points, one fewer than the Lakers. Are these offensive statistics? Defensive? Both? I'm going with both. One impacts the other. Good offense lends itself to good D, while tough D creates easy points at the other end.
-On an individual basis, just about everyone who stepped on the floor for LA played well, or at least contributed in one form or another. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum didn't pile up numbers in the post, but helped control the flow of things by drawing fouls, scoring, and effectively moving the ball out of the post when the Suns collapsed into the lane. Ron Artest had five steals and three triples. Jordan Farmar was 4-8 with four rebounds, and Shannon Brown rebounded from a slow start (two turnovers in the second quarter) to finish with 12 points. Lamar Odom led the team in rebounds (eight) and while he was fairly scattered offensively (three TOs against three dimes) had some great sequences guarding Stoudamire down low and helping to shut down Phoenix's pick and roll game.
VIDEO: A bit lean, because most of the squad disappeared after the game like Mickey Rourke's career between about 1988 and The Wrestler. But that doesn't mean you can't have a little moving picture fun...
Gasol, on his D, and the team's generally:
More Gasol, on this win and facing the Jazz:
Brown on how the team played on both sides of the ball:
Kobe, on beating the Suns:
Alvin Gentry, on his decision to double/triple/quadruple aggressively against LA in the paint: "Last time we were here, obviously they had 78 points in the paint, so we tried to take that away. You take that away, you gotta give up something, so they made three point shots, and it's just tough... I thought we did a good job on Bynum for the most part, and Pau creates just all kinds of problems for you. He's such a skilled guy, a great passer, and so even when you double he finds the open guy. When you don't double, you know, he's skilled enough that he can score on the inside."
Gentry, on LA's defense: "They're a long team and they bottle up everything they try to do. You know, they switch and they knock off. We could never really get anything going. We're not so much a fast-break team but a rhythm team, and they just take you out of your rhythm. They really do."