Lakers Continue Streak of Incredible Luck, Defeat Suns 124 to 112

pau04

The Western Conference Finals are off to a pretty fun start. Assuming, that is, you're a Laker employee or fan. If you're a Suns fan, you're probably not enjoying yourself as much, because for two games now, you've had to watch helplessly as your favorite team's defense gets bludgeoned. Phoenix gave up 128 points in Game One, and thanks to some crafty adjustments and a never-say-die spirit, they succeeded in limiting the Lakers to a modest 124 in Game Two tonight. At this stellar rate of improvement, they can look forward to holding the Lakers to double digits in late June, just time for that pivotal Game Nine.

Tonight's contest was certainly more competitive than Monday's. After falling behind by 14 in the second quarter, the Suns clawed their way back to a tie at the end of the third. But in front of a raucous Staples Center crowd some TV cameras, the Laker offense went back to casually embarrassing Phoenix "defenders," racking up 34 points in the final stanza to put the game away. The final score was 124 to 112, staking the Lake Show to a two-games-to-zilch series lead. Remember that hideous Game Four pounding in Oklahoma City? That was 25 days ago, and the Lakers haven't lost since then. Eight, count ‘em eight straight wins, as one by one, Western Conference challengers yield to their purple-and-gold overlords.

As expected, Phoenix twisted some knobs and pulled a few levers to give the Lakers a different defensive look. There was some zone, and there were some double-teams on Kobe Bryant. Kobe didn't have another thermonuclear shooting night, though he wasn't bad. He scored 21 points on 20 shots (using the word shots here to include free-throw possessions). His drop-off in pointage, however, he more than made up for with sensational passing and floor vision. Repeatedly he waited for the double-team to emerge, only to find one of his big men under the basket for a lay-in. Thirteen assists and only two turnovers for the Mamba, who was easily the best point guard on the floor tonight.

Yet again Pau Gasol was brilliant. Yet again he's making a soon-to-be free agent power forward look decidedly powerless. Carlos Boozer was his victim in the second round. Now the honor belongs to Amare Stoudemire, who could not possibly be looking any worse on defense. Pau juked and head-faked his way around Amare for 29 points and five assists. His comrades-in-bigness, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, had similarly trouble-free nights. Together those three combined for 59 points on 43 shots, many or most of those coming within close proximity of the cylinder. Unless the Suns sign Dikembe Mutombo and Alton Lister  before Game Three, I'm not sure they have an available solution for this.

Meanwhile, out on the perimeter, the Lakers continue to burn up the nets. Here are some prescient words I wrote this morning:

[C]an we really expect [Odom], Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar to bury 4 of 6 longballs again? Hey, great if it happens, but I wouldn't bet my refrigerator box on it.

In my defense, those guys didn't shoot 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. They shot 4 of 4. Woo-hoo, I'm right again! Someone pay me money.

As a team the Lakers made 9 of 16 threes, led by Ron Artest (3 of 6) and Farmar (3 of 3). Jordan, in case you haven't noticed, has become incredibly hot from the outside. He's making 47% of his playoff threes, just the kind of streak we felt the Lakers would need to kick their offense into high gear. The Lakers have now made 52% of their longballs in this series. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the new and improved* Suns defense!

(* = not guaranteed to be either new or improved)

The Phoenix offense, non-Channing Frye division, continues to perform respectably. They struggled with turnovers in the first quarter but got to rocking in the second and third behind Jason Richardson (27 points on 19 shots) and Grant Hill (23 on 18 shots). Amare (18 points on 17 shots) had an OK scoring night. (I guess you have more energy to burn on offense when you don't participate at the other end.) The Suns also got an efficient outburst from Jared Dudley, who buried all five of his three attempts en route to 15 points. The Laker team defense wasn't quite as sound as it was in Game One. Artest looked a step slow chasing Richardson around, and Kobe fell into his old habit of wandering away from his assignment, allowing J Rich and Dudley too many open looks. Please stop that, Kobe.

Steve Nash once again had a so-so outing. He's been great at finding passing seams and feeding dudes for easy looks, but he's neither destroying Derek Fisher on the bounce nor scoring in high volumes. And as in Game One, he committed turnovers at a crucial moment. This time, it was in the fourth quarter, when the game was still in doubt. With 7:30 left in the contest, the Suns had the ball down four. Nash threw the ball away on the next two possessions, leading to a Farmar three and a Kobe midrange jumper. Those five points gave the Lakers a double-digit cushion, and the Suns never made another serious run.

Also, Nash is an Amare-level disaster on defense. Hell, Fisher even feels comfortable driving on him. Derek Fisher. Driving. Do not adjust your monitor: you are reading these words correctly. This is turning into the easiest point-guard matchup the Lakers have faced or are likely to face in these playoffs.

Having now lost to L.A. five times in six tries this season, Phoenix has to beat the Lakers four times in the next five. Good luck with that, fellas.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

PHX

95

18

0.31

77

0.29

53

42

55

59

29

66

1.18

LA

96

15

0.44

74

0.21

58

56

63

67

34

71

1.29

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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