by Mike Middlehurst-Schwartz
There’s a saying that it’s better to be lucky than good. Most teams would like to be both.
No matter the explanation, the Los Angeles Lakers will take the result: a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference Finals match-up with the Phoenix Suns.
“Lucky” was the word on everyone’s minds after Amar’e Stoudemire used it to dismiss Lamar Odom’s 19-point, 19-rebound output in Game 1. But the term applied more broadly than just to Odom. The Lakers couldn’t duplicate the outcome and ease of their opening performance, could they?
The win didn’t come as easy as it did the first time. But it required little luck at the end.
Spurred by an offense that was rarely challenged, the Lakers downed the Suns, 124-112, Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Suns assured everyone Tuesday that defensive reinforcements were on the way after the team gave up 127 points in the opener. But a patient Lakers team toyed with the zone defense thrown their way in the early going, consistently finding wide open three-point shooters. With Kobe Bryant balancing the roles of distributor early (playoff career-high 13 assists) and scorer late (21 points), Los Angeles seldom struggled with putting up points.
The Suns’ plan to contain Bryant paid few dividends.
“They do a great job [playing defense] on Kobe, and then it goes to Pau [Gasol],” Gentry said. “You double-team Pau, and then it goes to Lamar. You get it out of Lamar’s hands, and Jordan Farmar makes shots.
“That’s the reason they’re world champs.”
Stopping the Suns, however, was a more arduous task for the Lakers. Phoenix couldn’t match Los Angeles’ efficiency, but its players frequently capitalized on open jumpers. Jared Dudley earned his keep with five 3-pointers. Grant Hill’s second-half revival catalyzed an integral run, and Steve Nash provided some much-needed counterpunches after many Lakers baskets.
But the Suns couldn’t go any further than tying the score at 90 at the end of the third quarter. Despite Gasol getting 14 fourth-quarter points, Bryant credited Jordan Farmar with “single-handedly” swinging the momentum back in the Lakers’ favor. Once the game was settled in the final minutes, one section of the crowd started a “we want Boston” cheer.
With the series headed to Phoenix, there was a sense of cautious optimism among the Lakers. The Suns’ crowd is sure to be more hostile than the quiet Staples Center group, whose loudest cheer came when referee Joey Crawford hit the deck. Bryant noted that dictating tempo would be more difficult on the road but also said the team knew how to adapt.
“We can play pretty much every style,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t mean we’re better than the team we’re playing against. But it holds us in stretches.”
Both Gentry and Steve Nash voiced a subdued frustration with the team’s inability to defend the Lakers consistently. After choosing to double Bryant and pay the Price, Gentry joked, “Maybe we’ll let Kobe get 80 and try to guard the other guys.” After taking his final question, Gentry panned, “I’m open to suggestions, guys.”
Sounds like a guy who could use a little luck.