Suns Outrun and Outgun Lakers in Game SevenApparently, the L.A. Lakers do not agree with me that "game seven" are two of the best words in sports because--other than Kobe Bryant--none of them showed up on Saturday night for game seven versus Phoenix, losing 121-90. Bryant tried to get his teammates involved early, but they reverted to their early season ways of not being able to catch or shoot the basketball. The Lakers trailed 32-15 after the first quarter, with Bryant shooting 2-4 from the field and scoring five points. In the second quarter Bryant became more aggressive offensively, scoring 18 points on 6-9 shooting, and the Lakers trimmed the lead to nine before a late Suns' burst pushed the margin to 60-45 at halftime. During TNT's halftime report, Charles Barkley criticized Bryant for shooting too much, which seemed odd since none of the other Lakers could hit the broad side of the barn with their attempts. Without Bryant's 23 points on 8-13 shooting the Lakers would have been down by 30. Does that sound strange considering how close the previous games were, even the ones in which Bryant shot less than usual? Well, maybe Bryant heard Barkley's remarks, because he attempted only three shots in the second half and scored his lone point on a free throw after a technical foul and the results were not pretty for the Lakers. For those of you scoring at home, in the second quarter--when Bryant "shot too much" and scored 18 points--the Lakers outscored the Suns 30-28. In the other three quarters the Suns outscored the Lakers 93-60. This is nothing new; this season the Lakers had a much better winning percentage in his 40-plus point games than in other contests.
Leandro Barbosa led the Suns with 26 points on 10-12 shooting, burning beyond recognition any and all Lakers who guarded him. Boris Diaw had 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, while Steve Nash--who reportedly will receive his second MVP award on Sunday--contributed 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds despite reaggravating a sprained ankle.
The combination of Bryant hardly shooting in the second half and only having one assist in the game will provide much fodder for his numerous critics, who can now fire at will from all directions. In the coming days you can expect to hear that he shot too much in the first half, did not shoot enough in the second half, is selfish because he only had one assist and tried to prove a point by not shooting in the second half. Did I leave anything out? What is sorely needed here is some perspective, both about this Lakers team and about Bryant. First, the Lakers are one of the youngest teams in the league, have shown flashes of what they are capable of doing and as the seventh seeded team just extended the second seeded Phoenix Suns to seven games. Even in the games in which Bryant shot less than usual he had a big impact, because the Suns could not double-team in the post because of the powerful offensive threat that Bryant represents. His presence enabled the Lakers' post players to go one-on-one down low. Bryant did the same things in game seven that he did in the games that the Lakers won, but Lamar Odom shot 5-14 from the field and Kwame Brown shot 2-10 from the field. Both players missed numerous point blank attempts. Still, the Lakers made a lot of progress this year and have a bright future in front of them. Second, Bryant is the best player in the NBA and without him this team would not have won 20 games. Phoenix double teamed him throughout game seven, yet when he wanted to score he scored and when he wanted to distribute he penetrated, attacked the double-team and passed to the open man. I've heard a lot of Bryant's critics say that his game has stifled Lamar Odom's. Well, Odom got the ball at the top of the key and in the post and only faced one-on-one coverage on most occasions because the defense zeroed in on Bryant. Phil Jackson did everything he could to give Odom a chance to do his thing offensively and Odom simply did not deliver the goods in game seven. The Lakers not named Bryant shot 24-75 from the field.
After the game, Barkley blamed Bryant for shooting too much in game six and in the first half of game seven and then criticized him for supposedly trying to prove a point by not shooting in the second half and hanging his teammates out to dry. Kenny Smith responded by correctly noting the unique and peculiar position that Bryant is in: his team needs his scoring, but when he shoots a lot he is criticized and when he doesn't shoot a lot he is criticized. Barkley brought up the deal that shipped Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat, noting that O'Neal's Heat advanced to the second round, while Bryant's Lakers have been eliminated. Can we have some context, please? The Heat are a second seeded team that lost their composure on numerous occasions and took six games to oust a Chicago Bulls team that barely made it to the playoffs; Bryant's Lakers are the only team in this year's playoffs to force a higher seeded team to play a seventh game. Let's see O'Neal and the Heat win a title--or even make it to the NBA Finals--before we revive the misguided notion that L.A. made a mistake not extending O'Neal's contract for maximum years at maximum dollars. If the Lakers and Heat were publicly traded commodities, the Lakers' stock would be going up and the Heat's stock would be plummeting.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM