Suns adjust, take Game 1 (PHX 1-0)
The Suns and Lakers got their playoff series underway Sunday. The Lakers started strong and Kobe Bryant was on fire in the first half. The second half was all PHX as the Suns held homecourt in a 95-87 win in Game 1.
The first half was brutal for the Suns. They missed a ton of jumpshots and Kobe got his jumper going. He drew a few early fouls on Raja Bell and James Jones to establish his will on the game. Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw came in cold and the Lakers built a 11-point lead. The Suns did get a run fueled by Shawn Marion's hustle and goods plays from Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Kobe settled his young team by banging four straight jumpers, including three from distance to give the Lakers a 48-39 halftime lead.
So at the half, here's the situation. The Lakers defense held the Suns under 40% shooting with only 39 points. Kobe was red hot with 28 points on 11-17 at that point. So the adjustments were pretty clear. The Suns needed to attack the rim. Nash and Marion had gotten some offense going but needed an impact from STAT and LB. Kobe had come out gunning but no other Laker was in a rhythm and Lamar Odom's half was diffused by three fouls. At this point, the Lakers would need Kobe to continue to fire and hope someone else would get hot because the Suns were going to trap and double more. If Kobe cooled off and Lakers didn't get a ton of offensive rebounds, the Lakers would be playing into the Suns strength.
In the third, the Suns were a different team. The effort to get STAT the ball was clear and effective. Nash was taking shots in the lane as well. The teams traded baskets at first but the pace and quality of shots was in the Suns' favor. The Suns scored 35 points in the third on mid-range jumpers, layups/dunks and three from distance. LB hit a long three at the buzzer to cut the lead to three, fire up the crowd and give the Suns momentum heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, LB continued to attack. He scored the first seven points of the quarter for the Suns and gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Like we said in the series preview, the Lakers have no counter for LB (26 pts, 19 in 2nd half). On one of his moves, he was driving full speed at a backpedalling Smush Parker. He blew by and Smush fouled him for an and1. When his jumper is on and he's attacking in the open court- he's unguardable.
While the Suns offense opened up a lead, their defense sealed the deal. Kobe went ice cold in the fourth. The Suns sent doubles and traps at him. When he passed, his teammates were missing and when he shot he forced the issue. Kobe shot 1-10 in the fourth and the Lakers could only muster 10 points. Whether or not Kobe was gassed, the defense was better. The Suns rebounded the Lakers misses and got great board work from STAT (12 reb, 9 def.) and the Matrix (16 reb, 13 def.).
PHX got an offensive rhythm when they made an effort to establish STAT (23 pts, 12 reb, 2 blk, 2 stl) and Nash (20 pts, 10 ast) in the third.
Lamar Odom (17 pts, 16 reb) showed glimpses of the trouble he gives the Suns. When he attacks with a full head of steam, he's tough.
Don't know if many of you have watched Steve Nash's DVD but there's something on the bonus disc that we saw in this game. Nash's pregame warmup is legendary as he makes about 300 shots all over the court. The bonus disc is him talking the viewer through that workout. He starts from about four feet away and extends out to NBA three-point range. He says during the close shots it's a chance to make sure he's using proper mechanics, get his confidence up and to get hot. When the third quarter started that clip came into my mind. The Suns got a bunch of buckets in the paint and at one point Nash waved off an open three to reset and James Jones got an elbow jumper out of it. The shots the Suns hit in the paint helped build their confidence after a bad shooting first half.
The Suns held serve in this one but the Lakers will still be looking for a split in Game 2. Their stars got them through this game and sometimes in the playoffs that exactly what you need. The Suns may have scored and shot beneath their averages but once they established their tempo and turned up the defensive pressure on Kobe, they took control. Their ability to get points from numerous sources is a strength not many teams have and today we saw that's the clear difference between these two teams.