Lakers 139, Suns 137 (3OT): The basketball gods provide a makeup game

I needed that game.  I think we all did.  After the traveshamockery that was the first game of TNT's special Tuesday night doubleheader, the NBA needed this, and I for one was glad that went on as long as it did.  I wanted overtime when the score was tied at the end of regulation and the Phoenix Suns had the final shot.  I wanted triple overtime when Pau Gasol was fouled with 2.5 seconds left and the Los Angeles Lakers down two.  But I also wanted double overtime when it was the Lakers who were up three and Phoenix needed three clutch free throws from Channing Frye on a semi-questionable shooting foul.  I'm happy the Lakers ended up victorious, but I spent much of the evening simply rooting for more.

Tonight's contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns had everything you could want in a game of professional basketball.  Strong offensive execution, great shooting, amazing individual performances, and lots of drama.  It was an incredibly clean game (the teams combined for only nine turnovers and 27 free throws through three quarters before the 4th and OT got slogged down a bit) and there was even some defense sprinkled in at the end, aided by what must have been some heavy legs.  And in the end, there was a clear winner: the game of basketball.  Aside from a few broken hearts in Arizona, who might be understandably upset that their portion of great game came with a side of wrenched gut sprinkled with flakes of crushed soul, I doubt anybody who caught this game was left unsatisfied.

In the end, it was the Lakers who clawed their way to a victory that shouldn't have required any fingernails.  The Lakers sported a big lead for most of the second half, a lead that reached 21 points with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and no lead that size at that juncture should ever be in danger.  But losing big leads is one of the Lakers' calling cards, and once the Suns evened things up, L.A. was forced to survive by sheer force of will in the first two overtimes before pulling away in overtime #3.  The final score of 139-137 was the most combined points scored in an NBA game this season, barely edging out a Raptors Nets contest that also went to triple overtime earlier this month.

If we're honest, the Lakers really had no business winning this game. In terms of game planning and strategy, the team did nothing right through the first three quarters.  They played at a high pace, shot a bunch of three pointers and long jump shots, and they defended the pick and roll like moths defend a bug zapper, repeatedly having both defenders drawn to Steve Nash with Marcin Gortat on board to do the zapping.  Steve Nash had six assists in the first quarter alone, and ended up with 20 on the night.  Strategically, Alvin Gentry could not have drawn up a better environment to pull out the upset win if he were coaching both teams.  And yet, the Lakers were up six at halftime, and up nine in the 3rd quarter (too bad that 3rd quarter lead included the Suns shaving 12 points off that 21 point lead in the final 4.5 minutes of the frame).  How did the Lakers not only survive a potent Suns attack and their own stupidity, but thrive in an environment that was very much in Phoenix's favor?  Through some incredible individual performances.

In short, every big name player the Lakers are blessed with did their part in driving an extremely potent offensive attack.  Kobe Bryant had 26 points on 9-14 shots through three quarters.  Lamar Odom had 21 points on 9-11.  Pau Gasol had 20 points on 8-18 shooting (what a chucker, amirite?).  By and large, these were not dunks or layups caused by poor Suns defense.  These were jumpers, open jumpers mind you, but jumpers none the less.  And nearly every single one of them went down.  There are shoot arounds that don't go this well.  The Lakers (and Suns for that matter) were ripping the nets so often with drained jump shots that they may have caused a nylon shortage the likes of which we haven't seen since World War II.  Surprisingly, it was the Suns who couldn't keep the pace.  They went cold in the 3rd quarter and the Lakers pulled away.

But, considering how the Lakers achieved their success early on, it shouldn't surprise anybody that they fell back to earth in a major way.  The main culprit was a bench unit that got severely outplayed on the night.  Matt Barnes is deserving of high praise, scoring 13 points on 9 shots, but his reward was a team low -14 on the evening.  His teammates didn't fare so well, especially poor Luke Walton.  I think Luke missed something like six consecutive three pointers as the Suns made their run in the late 3rd/early 4th quarter.  The box score says he only attempted four threes on the evening (and he even made one!), but I'm sticking with my story.  At this point, Walton must be secretly happy that his name has been affectionately chanted by the Laker faithful in a remarkably similar way to a fan's most easily recognizable voice of disapproval.  Now, when Luke gets all those legitimate boos, he can at least tell himself they might be trying to encourage him.

Once the game got into extra time, I figured the Lakers would end up losing, simply because their game strategy (reliance on the outside shot, playing at a pace that was foreign to them, not locked in on defense) was more susceptible to failure.  With a bench filled with guys that Phil Jackson didn't trust, PJ ended up riding the starters heavy, heavy minutes, with the fivesome of LO, Pau, Ron-Ron, Mamba and Fish playing every second of the last 20+ minutes of game action.  Every starter ended up with 46+, with Pau and LO logging 52 and 55(!!) minutes in Drew's absence.  But, instead of wilting under the fatigue and pressure, they slowly cranked things up on the defensive end before really locking down in triple overtime.  The Lakers created three steals in the final, final frame, and when you only get nine possessions in an overtime, it's tough to deal without three of them.  Throw in a little Kobe (10 points in the last two overtimes, and ended up with 42 on the evening) and a clutch running fade away from Ron Artest, and you have the elements of a hard fought and dramatic triple OT victory.

We'll end things with a eulogy for Vince Carter.  As the rest of his team was making all the right moves to give them the best chance for victory, VC just killed his team tonight.  He scored 17 points, but it took him 23 shots to get there, including a woeful 2-13 from downtown.  He had a chance to end this game in regulation, but he missed a three at the buzzer.  He was the only guy, on either team, to be subbed out in the overtime periods because the coach just wanted somebody else in the game.  And he took a terrible, unnecessary shot on the Suns penultimate possession, a shot that effectively sealed the contest in L.A.'s favor.  And his plus/minus is almost impossibly laughable.  He's perilously close to being the only Suns player in the negative, and he was -20.  You could make a statistical case that he single handedly lost this game for the Suns.  Woof.

Overall, it was quite an entertaining little game.  As Laker fans, we probably could have dealt without the last 15 minutes or so, and certainly could have lived without seeing the home team squander another 20 point lead, but I'm firmly and passionately calling "No harm, no foul" on this one.  They don't play again until Friday, so they've got plenty of time to rest, and they provided us with one hell of a night of entertainment.  Even if the home team had lost, I would have been satisfied with the product.  The win just makes it even sweeter.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

Phx

118

10

0.21

82

0.39

52

41

56

59

22

67

1.16

LA

116

7

0.21

88

0.23

45

41

49

53

33

78

1.20

 

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