First of all, there is nothing I enjoy more as a Kobe Bryant hater than watching him score at lot of points in a loss. And with a 38-point, 15-for-22 (6-for-9 from beyond the arc) performance in the Western Conference Finals, it’s hard to imagine he could’ve played better. In a loss.
Secondly, the Suns have been playing inspired basketball throughout these playoffs. Everyone (myself included) was ready to stick a fork in them as the series moved to Phoenix.
Without a rooting interest or personal bias, every sports fan loves an underdog.
The Suns also have the more compelling characters in this series. Goran Dragic plays so soundly in terms of the fundamental aspects of his game. He makes crisp passes, takes care of the ball at all times, and executes his crossover to ankle-devastating effect. When he subs in for Steve Nash, the drop-off isn’t nearly as great as you’d expect.
Amar’e Stoudemire has also come awake in this series. He and Nash together look as good as they did during the Mike D’Antoni era. Except for, you know, playing defense now.
Head coach Alvin Gentry has done an exceptional job making in-game and in-series adjustments throughout these playoffs. As you’ll hear numerous times, one of the biggest adjustments (and risks) has been playing a zone defense against the Lakers.
It is the perfect counter to the Lakers’ height advantage, and also covers up some of the Suns’ defensive weaknesses in man-to-man. I’m talking to you, Nash and Stoudemire.
It also exploits the Lakers’ tendencies toward poor shot selection from three-point land. Aside from Kobe, the Lakers shot 3-19 for three-point FG, “led” by 1-5 shooting from Ron Artest.
Additionally, the Suns have been able to dictate the pace of the game on offense as well. As we know from years of watching Steve Nash, a team with him at point guard is best when running the fast break.
It is no coincidence that the Suns have won both games in which they imposed their will on the Lakers.
The key to the series will be whether the Suns can maintain this control on both ends of the court. As we saw in the first two games, the Suns can play their style on offense and the Lakers can run with them and outscore them.
With inferior talent, the Suns will have to maintain their current level of play with no drop-off if they want to win this series. With Alvin Gentry at the helm and Steve Nash leading on the court, I have every confidence they can pull it off.
Anything to put Kobe in a jovial mood.