The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Sunday's Western Conference GamesSunday's three Western Conference games featured one outstanding half by Kobe Bryant (followed by a not so outstanding half) and two upsets of highly touted championship contenders.
The Score: Phoenix 95, L.A. Lakers 87
The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant scored 28 points on 11-17 shooting in the first half as the Lakers took a 48-39 lead. The 28 points ties the most he has ever scored in one half of a playoff game but the "39" is even more significant: Phoenix is not comfortable playing at that pace. Fortunately for the Suns, they can bring in Sixth Man of the Year candidate Leandro Barbosa, who scored 19 of his playoff career-high matching 26 points in the second half. Meanwhile, Bryant shot 4-16 from the field in the second half, finishing with 39 points. It should be noted that Bryant exceeded his regular season scoring average while shooting his normal percentage from the field; granted, he played at vastly different levels in the two halves but in the end the Lakers got more point production from him than usual without sacrificing any accuracy. Obviously, the Lakers would prefer to keep the game close in the first half without him having to exert so much energy, making it more likely that he can shoot 11-17 down the stretch.
The Bottom Line: ESPN's Jon Barry summed up this whole series during the pregame show: whether Kobe Bryant scores a ton of points or tries to be a "facilitator," the Lakers do not have enough weapons to beat the Suns in a seven game series. Think about some of the "key" moves that the Lakers have made recently: elevating rookie Jordan Farmar to the starting point guard spot over Smush Parker and welcoming back the injured Kwame Brown as the starting center. How many minutes would either of those guys be playing on a championship contending team? When Bryant plays like Superman, he can singlehandedly make the Lakers competitive against anyone--but he is not Superman, he just seems like he is. Whatever he does in this series--score 50 points or dish out 10 assists--it won't be enough and will surely provide more fodder for his critics. The Lakers are a seventh seeded team that will be competitive with a vastly superior Suns team primarily because of Bryant's scoring and the open shots that his teammates get when he is double-teamed.
The Score: Denver 95, San Antonio 89
The Key Stat: Allen Iverson's 31 points and Carmelo Anthony's 30 points will attract most people's attention but the key stat is .420--San Antonio's field goal percentage in this game. The Spurs usually win by forcing their opponents to shoot a low percentage but the Nuggets beat them at their own game. It will be interesting to see if they can do this three more times.
The Bottom Line: Denver's problem all year--besides suspensions and injuries--has been lackluster defense. If the Nuggets will work hard on defense consistently then they can be very dangerous--but I still think that the Spurs will win this series and that it will not go seven games.
The Score: Golden State 97, Dallas 85
The Key Stat: Dallas had no answer for Baron Davis, who had 33 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Dallas shot .353 from the field, "led" by Dirk Nowitzki's 4-16.
The Bottom Line: We all knew going in to this series that Golden State provides certain intriguing matchup problems for Dallas but the question here is the same one that applies to Denver: are the Warriors disciplined enough to play this way for an entire series? I still think that Dallas will win this series but I could see it going seven games.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:05 AM