Sunday, April 22, 2007

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.

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At 12:06 AM, Blogger Zei_Zao_LS said...

Definitely liking the recap. I didn't get to catch the first half of the game because of work but... well, the way things sound maybe it was a good thing. =p

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

Thanks. I wasn't sure what you were going to write so I just focused on the 2nd half adjustments. Today was bananas. LB was awesome and the D was good. The icing is Dallas and San Antonio losing.

At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Mister T said...

I don't think the suns started to play well until a very cold, tenuous, and almost uninterested looking Diaw was sat down. This has me very nervous -- what exactly was wrong with Boris? Hopefully it is a one game thing ... he is so important to a championship run.

At 12:40 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

I was cursing Boris' bad play too. In the first half he was horrible. In addition to getting worked by Odom, he took two jumpers out of his range and used his dribble penetration to pass to covered shooters rather than hit his little hook.

D'Antoni doesn't criticize Boris because he's knows he'll lose him. With the trust he has from the coaching staff, he should try to score more now that's he's leading the second unit. Everyone plays him to pass so his scoring will keep the defense honest.

I think Boris is thinking too much on the floor. He doesn't make quick confident moves anymore- unless he's running a play where he's passing. This team needs him to play better by attacking defenses. With three players able to create off the dribble the Suns are scary. Right now, Boris doesn't scare anyone.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Zei_Zao_LS said...

Herse: Yeah, I wasn't sure if you were going to recap the game either, so I just strayed away from it. Didn't figure I should without having watched the first half either.

Mr. T: I think Boris is suffering from acute contractextensionitus, and it's spread to his arms, legs, and upper torso. That'd explain a lot of the issues. I've really been of the opinion that we should sell on him while he still has some value since about 25-35 games into the season, as he's not meshing well in the line-up anymore. (Which doesn't make sense. A passer should never play worse once he gets one of the best finishers in the game playing next to him.)

Oh well. Let's hope he steps it up a notch. I'm all too willing to be proven wrong in exchange for Boris playing like he did last year.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Ra said...

This game was awesome. Nash, Amare, Matrix and Barbosa more than held their own.

At the end it was clear which was the more dominant team. Amare was taking rebounds because they were his.

Barbosa outplayed Kobe. After his hot first half, Kobe was playing recklessly, getting himself into impossible positions and launching up duds while flailing to try to get calls. He looked like a fish flopping out of the water, it was not pretty.

Boris is definitely struggling although I did like that he was trying to score. He was just ice cold. If he keeps shooting, he'll start dropping buckets and get back into rhythm.

I thought Diaw and Barbosa coming off the bench was a great idea from early in the season. Amare and Nash is the starting playmaker and scorer and then we bring in Diaw and Barbosa to compliment them and we don't lose much rhythm. Hopefully Boris can pick it up. The Lakers are kind of a bigger team and Boris struggles a bit against them. Odom and Kwame are too big for him.

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