The 'Luck' Of The Suns
Since the Phoenix Suns won game three, I have scoured the internet reading recaps, analysis, and commentary about the game and the series. I had decided, after Game 5 in the Boston-Cleveland series, that my statistical analysis of the five remaining teams in the playoffs, the Lakers, Suns, Celtics, Cavaliers, and Magic, was accurate. I predicted the Celtics taking it in Game 6 against LeBron. I also predicted that the Magic would face the Suns in the Finals - the statistics told me it would happen. I assumed every series would take seven games and the Magic would become the champions. Then the conference finals started and the Magic looked like they didn't belong and the Suns, well, they appeared to be in way over their heads with a 21-point loss. This was not what my analysis told me would happen. I wasn't basing that analysis off of the post-season alone, however, so the strength of the Hawks and Bobcats, or the Spurs and Blazers were never considered. I looked at the body of work the two teams had completed during the regular season, specifically the second half of the season. Does it matter? Not really. Statistics lie when it comes to series actually being played on the courts of the NBA. If stats really mattered, the Suns team from 2004-2005 should have easily cruised to the championship.
What I find interesting, however, is that after Sunday night's game, one in which Amar'e Stoudemire went completely insane and Robin Lopez produced more than could have been expected given his situation, the Lakers fans give no credence to the Suns victory. "Yeah," they'll say, "so what? It took Amar'e scoring forty and grabbing eleven boards for them to win. We had a horrible night with our shots, they just weren't falling. They only won by nine points. And they won't be able to fool us with the zone again." I'll simply reply, "sure." Why? Because it doesn't matter. Games one, two, and three, are now in the past and all that's left is two more wins for the Lakers or three more for the Suns - it's that simple.
Or is it?
When the Phoenix Suns were demolished in Game 1, nobody gave them a chance in this series. The Lakers completely dominated them. The final score proved it. A 21-point loss in the Western Conference Finals? Are you serious, Suns fans, are you serious? The Suns obviously did not even belong in this series. In the next game, with the score tied at 90 going into the fourth quarter, the Lakers ratcheted up their offense, the Suns faltered, and the outcome was a 12-point loss. While it was a little closer, the fact still remained that these Suns didn't belong. They were outclassed, out-hustled, and out-coached for two straight games.
So, what is my point, exactly?
My point is that it is very strange to me how last night's game appears to be the anomaly in this series. Phoenix winning at home with little contribution from the bench and an explosive performance by Amar'e is a little strange, I'll give you that, but how can the first two games be seen as normal? If I were a Lakers fan, I'd be worried right now - very worried. The game last night may have been close but it is part of a trend in which a 21-point victory turned into one by a dozen, followed up by a nine-point loss. Which way is the pendulum swinging?
The Lakers get cold from behind the arc and it's just an off shooting night. The Suns, one of the best three-point shooting teams in the history of the NBA have two off nights and it's the Lakers size and defensive prowess. Well, does that make sense? Trust me, I'm very aware of just how good these Lakers can be and often are. I'm not, as a Lakers fan has accused me of being far too many times recently, a Lakers-hater. I just really, really love my Suns and, more importantly, my stats.
If you'd like to consider the series opener as proof of the Lakers being a better team, please do. That victory, however, came after a week's worth of commentary about how weak the Lakers bench was compared to the Suns. It came after Derek Fisher had been blasted for his inability to stay in front of Nash and his defensive liability (as opposed to Nash's stellar defense?). It was a home-opener to a Conference Finals filled with emotion. After dismantling Utah in Salt Lake City, a feat rarely accomplished, the Lakers were riding the tide of success into an opportunity to avenge those series losses from the post-Shaq, pre-Pau days. Kobe had a chip on his shoulder, as he always does, but the bench players and role players had honestly had enough of the criticism.
Phoenix, of course, jumped out to a quick seven-point lead, then it all fell apart. Kobe willed his team to victory and that, as they say, was that. But it wasn't just Kobe, it was Pau, Lamar, Ron, Shannon, and Jordan, wait, Jordan Farmar - that's right. It was a total team effort and Amar'e was heavily criticized when he called it as he saw it and labeled Lamar's game as lucky. Come on Lakers fans, you know, just as Suns fans knew with Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion, that he comes and goes. Lamar Odom is not Robert Horry who could be completely inconsistent at everything except showing up big in the playoffs. Did you expect that type of effort from your entire team to be sustainable for an entire series?
Better yet, did you expect Phoenix to struggle offensively for the entire series? Of course this makes no sense to Lakers fans because it wasn't a Suns team facing offensive struggles - it was a great Lakers defense that caused them to shoot 22 percent, 22 PERCENT, from three-point land. Sure, the Lakers have great perimeter guards, that's not deniable, but our guys missed shots just like your guys did last night. I'm just asking which is more characteristic, reliable and sustainable?
Game 2 should be considered the affirmation of the Lakers dominance, but a 12-point win after a tied start to the fourth shows me a collapse by one team more than a truly dominant performance by another. In fact, the same argument used against the Suns in reference to the San Antonio sweep could be used here. The Spurs ran out of gas every game. They could have won every single game of that series but they weren't deep enough and didn't have the energy they needed to sustain their team's strength for 48 minutes. Well, when the Suns had relied so heavily on their bench to keep them in games, provide a spark, and give the starters rest during key stretches, it should be expected that their absence from the first two games caused some major problems. But, as I asked another contributor to Bleacher Report after game one, what happens when all of the hype and motivation that fired up that Lakers bench fades away? What happens when that Purple & Gold pride turns into overconfidence and the Suns team returns to form? I asked, after the first game, what was more likely to happen during the rest of the series when comparing the two benches and the shooting.
The Suns, as has been argued and proved, are not a good defensive team regardless of what others will say, but it’s high time that Lakers nation steps up to the plate and admits that its team has given up 107, 112, and 118 points in three games this series. This should be alarming because Lakers fans should be able to admit that the offensive output they received the first two games was just slightly out of character for the players not named Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Now, I'm falling on statistics again and I'm using them to justify my sense of calm during this storm. The truth is that I don't know what will happen in future games. But let's not play a double-standard when it comes to analyzing this series. If the Lakers just missed their shots, so did the Suns. If the Suns defense is terrible, so is the Lakers. If a home victory is expected, it's expected by both teams. The Lakers may win in five, who knows, but there won't be a sweep and the Suns do belong. If stats determined the outcome of series, the Lakers should have stayed in Los Angeles and watched the Finals on television. There’s a reason the game is played and hopefully, for all of us, this is back to being a series.
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