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Sunday, May 30th, 2010 at 2:05 am  |  38 responses

Lakers Advance to Finals

Sasha’s still alive, but the Suns aren’t.

by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr

Alvin Gentry has been coy each game in the Western Conference Finals about his plans for the game. For example, he demurred when asked about going to the zone before Game 3Preceding Game 4, he mumbled something about rotations when an inquiry was made about second unit time.

And before Game 6, Alvin Gentry was asked if Amar’e Stoudemire would receive more attention on the offensive end. “It’s difficult to explain,” Gentry explained by not explaining.

This was a brilliant decision from Gentry, no matter the result.  If Stoudemire succeeded, Game 7 started in L.A. with Gasol and Bynum’s confidence shaken.  If he failed, he left the Suns for his summer of free agency remembering the Suns turned to him with the season on the line.

r596482919Amar’e Stoudemire then submitted a 7-for-20 performance with only four rebounds that helped sink the Suns’ season in a 111-103 Los Angeles Lakers win in Phoenix Saturday night, vaulting the Lakers and Boston Celtics into a Finals that promise to keep Magic Johnson’s dance card filled through Flag Day.

Stoudemire spent three quarters looking from the outside in on the paint before exerting his will in the fourth by taking a first step offensively that could have cleared the Grand Canyon and earning six free throws with three-for-five shooting from the floor.

However, the effort came far too late as most of the Suns’ comebacks did in the series, showing that digging so many holes in the desert can eventually lead you to a hole even you can’t escape.

After a hideous first quarter from both squads where defense was represented by two fouls on three-point shooters (Bynum and Hill committing the acts against proper defense) and both teams shot over 50% from three and two, the Lakers could only claim a 37-34 lead.

Sure, it was an elimination game, but only those who value scoring over the quality of the scoring enjoyed the beginning of Game 6. (By the way, all of those people currently reside in a Hattiesburg, MS, clinic.)

Most of that effort came from an invigorated Ron Artest, who earned 12 points in the first frame and 24 through three quarters (25 total), half from busting the zone via the three (4-6 in those three quarters). His defense, which lasted all four quarters, shushed Jason Richardson to a demure 13 points. Queensbridge must be so proud.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol didn’t contribute much offensively on the night, but their imitation of cholesterol lining the lane forced Stoudemire into fallaway jumpers and short leaners instead of interior domination. Lamar Odom then waxed the glass until Suns fans squeaked (12 total) as the additional possessions added up for the Lakers, creeping out to an 18-point lead late in the third.

98888104RR081_Los_Angeles_LSasha Vujacic took advantage of the wide lead to continue his Slovenian vengeance on Goran Dragic for perceived slights, imitating the Robin Lopez-Derek Fisher altercation from earlier in the series and throwing his arms up in a cactus signal into Goran’s face near half court at the start of the fourth. Vujacic didn’t appear to consider himself lucky to get away with a flagrant one.

After the game, Phil Jackson described the altercation as such: “Sasha got involved in a flagrant foul.” You know, like a fender bender except where one person uses their car as a weapon. A cactus-shaped weapon.

Craig Sager of TNT asked Kobe Bryant about the act afterwards: “I’m gonna kill him.” After an elongated pause, Kobe remembered he’s supposed to smile after threatening to kill people to make it appear as if he wasn’t serious. So he did. Briefly.

(In the post-game presser, he was asked if he could elaborate. Kobe replied, “He’s still breathing.” Beat. Beat. Smile.)

The Suns fans were inspired by the violence as was Dragic, who sunk both free throws and two aggressive layups in quick succession to bring the lead back to nine.  The second unit, left alone by Gentry to burn brightly, whittled the lead down to 3 from 15 over the next eight minutes, unable to punch through.

“I’m not mad at him and I hope he’s not mad at me,” said the soft-spoken Dragic after the game. “I wish him good luck in the Finals.” Pull the video; those eight minutes were not those of a kid passively accepting a cactus to the back of the head.  Those were a man’s drives against a petulant countryman.

capress-bkn_lakers_suns-3502904As this transpired, Kobe (37 points on 25 shots) grew tired of the charade and lashed on his vanquishin’ kicks.  He drained unlikely shot after impossible shot, finishing with 3-7 in the frame but those three coming over double-teams predicated by the man-to-man defense Gentry switched to in a valiant effort to stop, slow, or at least irritate Kobe.

No such luck.  After one particularly ridiculous make, Gentry said he told Grant Hill, “Good defense,” to which Kobe replied with a pat on Alvin’s bottom and a quick, “Not quite good enough.”

Gentry effectively shrugged after the game. “I mean, what can you say about Kobe? I don’t know if there’s words.” There are, Coach, but they’re not quite good enough, either.

With that extra push, the Lakers locked the game out at an 8-point lead with less than a minute to play and the Suns had just a bit too much sand to swim through at the end.

“It’s a great source of pride for me to play with these guys,” Steve Nash (21/5/9 on 11 shots) told the media after the game. “… I’m excited I got a chance to have a year like this with these guys.” NBA TV showed Nash and Gentry sharing an emotional moment in the locker room before Nash spoke, reflecting the length and breadth of the season.

Stoudemire felt he gave his all to the cause as well. “Honestly, I felt like I was going to pass out for awhile there.” And for his future? “Still not sure… I’m just going to take a couple days, enjoy the family, and start figuring out what the next move is.”

As the Suns’ locker room filtered out, one reporter took a moment to say goodbye to Amar’e, just in case he didn’t return next season. “Possibly,” he replied as the reporter turned away. He rolled the word around in his mouth a few times as he sat down, testing the notion out loud. “Possibly, possibly, pos-si-bly…”

OTHER NOTES

-Fans throughout the arena sported the orange shirts handed out but also orange bandages on their foreheads. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reported the bandages came from Amar’e's mom, who handed them out.

98888104RR070_Los_Angeles_L-In the arena: AZ Senator John McCain and his wife. Also: Dean Cain. Not the same person. True fact.

-Also present: Jimmy Goldstein. The Phoenix Comicon took place across the street Saturday and Jimmy would’ve fit in nicely at either event.

-Robin Lopez again showed good energy but little ability to avoid foul trouble. Channing Frye compensated for Lopez’s minutes with 13 rebounds (9 more than Amar’e) and 12 points in 40 minutes.

-Kobe cut his hand in the first quarter and required two attempts to stem the bleeding. He then returned the favor on the Suns for the remainder of the game.

-The Suns’ A/V staff tried to inspire the crowd by showing the last time the Suns were down 3-2 to the Lakers, but Tim Thomas was prominently involved, so that didn’t work as hoped.

-Before the game, Dan Majerle posted two quotes on the Suns’ locker room whiteboard. One came from Churchill and the other… as noted by Jeramie McPeek, Suns’ VP of Digital, from the movie “Hitch”. Don’t go changin’, Dan.

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  • Joey E.

    Thats a good Hitch quote. lol at Sasha and Goran. fun stuff. and Kobe, yikes.

  • Big Marv’

    Kobe strikes again. Dare I say it the closest to…the guy on the cover of NBA 2K11

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Sick shot-making by Kobe. Also, his airplane celebration is a bit of a bite off Mark Jackson.

  • puck

    Damn, Kobe is on a mission and the Celtics better watch out, here comes ship number 5!!

  • doyouwantmore

    Kobe should have gotten a technical for patting Alvin Gentry’s butt in the middle of a game.

  • LCD Screen Cleaner

    Frye/Stoudemire vs. Gasol/Odom going so hard against each other tonight both sides kinda stunk. Artest so FOCUSED it was creepy. Nobody stood out for the Suns, they could have really used someone on fire. Game was pretty good, no steamroller finish ala BOS-ORL. Excited for the finals.

  • LCD Screen Cleaner

    Oh, and excellent recap Mr. Tarwood.

  • Jake

    Attention Bandwagon riders,the Lakers still have open seats.All aboard for number 24!

  • http://nba.com Reflex

    Kobe is just too sick. When his jumper is falling like it did in not only this game but the entire series, he is not only my fabourite player to watch but he also is the best player in the league bar none. I hope they can can beat Boston but I fear those old timers have more step left in them

  • http://nba.com Reflex

    Also, Slam I’m still mad at you guys putting Kobe @ #12 in last year’s Top 50 all time. I trust that is being revised as we speak. SMH @ him not being in the Top 10.

  • doyouwantmore

    Reflex wins the jock-rider of the day trophy.

  • http://ekama.vip-blog.com samuel blaise joseph ndiaye

    Kobe us out all the stops yesterday
    Bravo to Sun that they were unworthy ps showed a good contrast against the Western Conference Championship
    good luck lakers to the finals

  • http://nba.com Reflex
  • James

    Kobe was just flat-out ridiculous, the airplane celebration was just too cool.

  • http://slamonline.com Krishan

    This game just reminded me of something. The big difference in the upcoming boston-la match-up? Our stopper isn’t vujacic anymore.

  • http://slamonline.com Krishan

    The lakers standing around all stoic after winning the WCF says to me that they’re still hurting from what boston did to them in 08. They’re still pissed, and this bodes well for the series.

  • Reign Man

    F”(k the Lakers !!! They suck (o(k much. Glad that Amare gave a little goin away poster for GASOL. TAKE THAT MOP-HEAD !!!! UGH !!! MEGA PROPS TO THE SUNS THOUGH !!! Will be glad to see Boston take em’ (lakers). Michael Cooper underlined the rivalry as he wants loads of blood to fill the court during the finals. I’m paraphrasing before haters jump in. One !!!

  • BostonBaller

    Congrats to The Lakers…Let’s get ready to rumblllllllllllle.

  • http://deleted KH10

    This season has been the most fun ive had as a Suns fan since the four guard offence of 97, a few less mental mistakes and we could have forced game 7, but theres no shame in losing to this team, especially when kobe is making ridiculous fadeaways over double teams.
    this finals is gonna be a classic!

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Dacre

    I just hope that my crying prevents Steven John Nash from having to…

  • Reign Man

    But WORD to KH10 on that one. One !!

  • http://www.slamonline.com J

    great series! me hoping for a game 7.. nah, that mamba guy, great game.. and ron too.

  • T-Money

    Kobe is playing sick ball right now. This is going to be a great series. Nobody’s intimated, everybody has been there before. Mind games won’t do. Just basketball.

  • T-Money

    Sasha is usually a b-tch but I can’t get mad at him for the elbow. Dragic was talking sh-t after the shot.

  • http://www.slamonline.com melvin ely

    test: why is melvin ely on my screen, this is not him.

  • Robb

    Man I respect these Suns so much. Great team, great coach, Hill still playing is amazing, Amare is awesome, JRich has improved so much and Nash is just ridiculously good, both as a player and as a person. About Sasha…gotta say he screwed himself up, I mean he was starting to play better, finding his rhythm again, playing tough defense, but the Dragic thing was so stupid. He got his ass kicked and put his team in trouble in the process. Sorry Sasha but Goran is a much better player than you. And Kobe? He’s not the closest player to MJ he’s the only player at MJ’s level.

  • madis

    weird that SLAM chose an old picture of Kobe to the first page. The other guy jumping is Ronny Turiaf, who hasn’t been a Laker for some time now.

  • http://kb24.com Bigi

    @madis: It’s J-Peezy…or see them Kobe V’s?

  • madis

    my bad

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    What I want to know is why Alvin Gentry decided to pull Dragic from the game, when he was the ONLY player (besides Stoudemire) keeping them in the game?! Even if he decided to sub Nash back in, which he would have, he still should have let Dragic stay in at the 2. He went on a 6-0 run by himself, and nobody could guard him.

  • http://yahoo.com Killahbeez

    After the C’s make Kobe and his guide dog DFisher cry like lil girls again SLAM should make an all Celtics issue and shove that Kobe/LBJ issue up their uknowwhat, nobody wants to read about these 2 losers. I hav almost every issue from the last 10 years but I refuse to buy this crap. Another thing, is it just me or does SLAM have a Faker bias, they hav the Fakers articles up immediately but it takes a full day or two to read about the C’s taking down their darlings (LBJ & Lois Lane)

  • http://Www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Word, Teddy. As it unfolded, i was screaming at my TV for Alvin to use both Nash and Goran at the same time. Season on the line, conventional rotatios be damned! Also, C’s better #beatLA.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com DP

    I won’t say sh*t until they win the championship. This was cool and everything, but Kobe has to do the same thing against the Celtics. WCF means nothing if they get squashed by boston again.

  • truthteller

    @ darksaber: don’t worry, the celtics won’t!

  • Jackie Moon

    @Killahbeez the bias is purely perception. If you were a Lakers fan, you’d be wondering why they hate on Kobe so much. Slam is an equal opportunity team-hater!(That is a joke.)And the comments range the extreme, from Jamestheballa, who would knows that Kobe’s airball was an assist all the way to eboy and Anton, who claim the Lakers are “vulnerable” everysingleround. You’re bound to be right, eventually!

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    The Lakers will win the series in 5 games. I know this for a fact. The basketball Gods will say why did we give the Celtics all the calls in that 24 point comeback of the Lakers. THey will say why did we let some fake Hall of Famers who all flamed out as the leaders of their teams a title together. They will say why do the Celtics continue to talk junk, when even Micheal Jordan thinks their ring was a fluke too. Kobe and the Agronauts will win two in a row and since people won’t give Kobe has just due like Slam magazine not putting Kobe in top 10 all time. Kobe will copy Micheal Jordan once more and have two three peats. I still believe the Gods will reward Kobe with a seven ring to one up Jordan like his jersey number. THE LAKERS are out for blood, and Celtics beware, its more against you than what you can see. THE LAKERS are arlready REWARDED with the ring. Five will be a nice shirt to buy, also where the puppets at: Lebron still playing at YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club in Akron so it could still work. LOL!!!

  • jumpman3224

    Kobe has now taken his team to the Finals in half of his season’s as a pro and 7 out of 12 as a starter. That is unreal. I think a lot of things favor the Lakers in the coming series: the addition of Ron to guard Pierce, the fact that they’ve toughened up since ’08, Kobe is playing maybe his best ball ever, home-court, a relatively healthy starting lineup – in ’08 two starters (Bynum and Ariza) were out with injuries and the fact that they are still mad that Bostonians pelted their bus with rocks. Don’t want to discount the veteran saavy of the Celts and the Rondo factor though. Looking forward to a well played, stressful series.

  • JoeMaMa

    Kobe will win this series. I mean, the Lakers will. Wait….no. Kobe will.

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