Suns Unable to Slow Lakers in Game 1

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: May 17, 2010

Having a week and day off between games, no one knew which Suns team was going to show up for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday. Would it be a well-rested team that benefitted from the rest for injured players Steve Nash and Robin Lopez, or would it be a team that consistently comes out rusty after a long break?

The answer: a little from column A and a lot from column B. With both the Suns and Lakers heading into tonight’s game with six-game winning streaks, the Suns would see theirs come to an end with a 128-107 defeat in Los Angeles.

“We just have to look at the tape tomorrow and talk about making some adjustments,” Suns forward Grant Hill said. “I give credit to them. They made their shots and made plays. Everybody from them played well.”

Nash and Lopez both looked healthy and vibrant, but the team as a whole looked disjointed. After starting off well in the first quarter, the Lakers roared back to take a nine-point lead at the end of period on a buzzer-beating shot by Laker star Kobe Bryant.

That moment signaled the momentum completely shifting over to the Lakers. From that point on, it was the Lakers’ contest to lose.

“Kobe is probably the best player in the league right now,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said. “He went out there, willed himself and willed his team. He hit big shots for them and we just have to do a better job of making it tough for him.”

The Suns shot a more-than-respectable 49 percent from the floor, but they allowed the Lakers to shoot a scorching 58 percent. The Lakers, who are the top team in the league at guarding the three-pointer, limited the league’s best three-point shooting team to 28 percent shooting from downtown.

On the other hand, the Lakers nailed 47 percent of their threes and went 4-of-5 from three-point land in the first half. Leading the charge was Bryant, who finished with 40 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the floor.

“I still think we can withstand the 40 that Kobe got,” Suns Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “The way he got those points, when he's in that zone like he is tonight, there's really not a whole lot you can do about it. So we have to do a better job on the other guys.”

Bryant, who didn’t practice all of last week because of an injured knee, recorded his 11th career playoff game with 40 or more points. Gentry said before the game that if Bryant scored 30 on 30 shots, the Suns did their job, but if they let him get that amount of points on just 16 shots, it would be a long night.

Needless to say, it was a long night. Grant Hill, who was empowered with the job of defending Bryant, was saddled with early trouble and was forced to the bench.

The winner of the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award was even whistled for a technical foul because of his frustration with how the officials were forcing Hill to guard Bryant.

One bright spot for the team was Robin Lopez, who shot 6-of-7 from the floor to total 14 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. Lopez hadn’t played since March 26.

Also, the confidence accumulated by Goran Dragic in the San Antonio series carried over, with Dragic notching 13 points off the bench. Leandro Barbosa also is appearing to find his rhythm, tallying 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor.

The Suns placed six players in double figures, led by Amar’e Stoudemire’s 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Jason Richardson added 15 points, while Nash collected 13 points and 13 assists.

The loss puts the Suns in a precarious mathematical position. When a team wins Game 1 of a seven-game series, 78 percent of the time the team that won went on to prevail in the series.

To make matters worse, Phil Jackson is 46-0 in playoff series in which his team captures Game 1. The Suns fell to 4-2 on the road in the postseason.

Game 2 is on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on TNT.

Battle for the Paint

The Lakers won the battle of the paint three of the four times they faced the Suns this season, with the first occasion being and outright pummeling. In their first meeting this season, the Suns were outscored 78-48 in the paint.

Unfortunately for the Suns, Monday’s contest was very reminiscent of that initial meeting. The Lakers established themselves around the basket, outscoring the Suns by 14 in the paint in the first half.

Both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were able to get to rim, with Gasol shooting 10-of-13 from the floor and Odom shooting 9-of-15 from the field.

“Gasol had a great game and had some good post up moves, but for the most part it was them breaking down our perimeter defense and driving in the paint and creating situations that way,” Gentry said. “It wasn't exactly the post up plays and the big guys. It was the middle drives and the perimeter players driving in the paint.”

Lakers reserve guard Jordan Farmar was one of those culprits, coming off the bench to register 10 points and five assists. The Lakers would continue their dominance in that department all evening, outscoring the Suns 56-36 for the game in the paint.

Defense-less

One of the reasons the Suns have been so successful this season has been their ability to execute their defensive game plans. As a team, they’ve made considerable strides in their ability to take away an opponent’s strength.

Whether it’s through double-teaming a tough low-post threat or closing out on accurate perimeter shooters, the Suns have been able to adjust to whatever a team throws at them. In the first round, the Suns were able to keep Portland’s Andre Miller out of the paint, while in the second round, they were able to limit Tim Duncan’s effectiveness in the mid-post.

In fact, the Suns entered Monday’s game with stingier defense than the Lakers this postseason. They were allowing less points, had the second-best scoring differential of all teams in the playoffs, allowed less 20-point scorers and permitted less 30-point quarters from their opponents than the Lakers.

Unfortunately, that improved defense was nowhere to be found in Game 1. The Suns surrendered three 30-point quarters in the contest.

“I think our room for error is small,” Nash said after Game 1. “We've got to play really, really solid defensively, try to make everything as tough as possible, try to limit the paint touches and catches and offensive rebounds. I thought tonight we gave a few too many of those obviously but also a few too many breakdowns.”

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