Now We've Got A Series
Right around the start of the second quarter of game three between the Suns and Lakers last night, a wave of desperation washed over Laker fans -- lose this game and it’s over, and the good guys were down by 17.
But that same wave seemed to wash up some hustle -- not to mention the sudden ability to defend the pick-and-roll -- on the Lakers' players. Seemingly out of the blue, the fun-to-watch Laker team last seen right before Christmas reappeared. And just in time to get the 95-89 win and make this a 2-1 series.
What did that wave bring ashore? Let me list a few things.
Desire. It had been seemingly months since the Lakers had played with "diving on the floor for loose balls" passion. (Well, except for Ronny Turaif.) But when they got desperate you could see it in how hard they went after rebounds and how they got after it on defense. They played like they desperately wanted to win.
Switching on the pick-and-roll. We won’t bore the non-basketball hardcores with the details (read here instead) but the Lakers changed how they defended the Suns bread-and-butter play. And, because they played defense with the above-mentioned passion, it worked. The Suns didn’t get the plethora of easy baskets their success is built on.
Kwame Brown. He is the defensive anchor for the Lakers -- when he is in the game (and motivated that day) the Lakers don’t allow easy lay-ups. For example, there was late in the game when he surprised the Suns’ Leandro Barbosa (the Suns player most used to uncontested lay-ups) by clogging the lane and blocking his shot. In games one and three combined, the Lakers have outscored the Suns by 17 points when Kwame has been on the floor -- the highest number of any Laker.
Rebounding. The advantage the Lakers have over the Suns is they are bigger and stronger. In game three, for the first time in the series, they put that to use by controlling both boards. The Lakers grabbed 18 offensive rebounds -- that's 18 second chances on offense. You win a lot of games doing that. (Plus, it slows the Suns fast break, guys can't just take off down court they have to focus on rebounding.)
Kobe Bryant. It's not just that he had 45 points -- although that helps -- it's the way he did it. Kobe didn't force the play; when the three Suns defenders collapsed on him he passed to the open teammate (and he kept doing that even when his teammates missed). He took the open shots when he had them. He did it all within the flow of the offense. He was neither the scoring machine nor the distributor, he was both.
He's going to have to be both -- plus the Lakers are going to have to have desire, defend the pick and roll well, get a big game from Kwame Brown and rebound like mad dogs -- if they are going to win game four Sunday (12:30 on ABC).
But now we know they can do it.
AP photo by Chris Carlson