Best game of the year? Confidence boosting win going into a tough stretch? Played for pride?
Yeah, it was all of that and a bag of Cassell Nuts. It was also a pleasure to attend and maybe even more of a pleasure to re-watch tonight with the benefit of the magical Tivo god machine.
All hail rewind and slo-mo!
Let's roll with it and see what two pages of notes might tell us ...
Big Profound Important DO NOT IGNORE Observation of the Game
Leandro Barbosa was absolutely magnificent in this game. Last year we noted how much more poised he was on his drives and how he'd cut down on those out-of-control Barbosa specials that resulted in no foul and the ball not even drawing iron. This year I've been raving about his defensive improvement all year. Now we can add this -
Leandro Barbosa is a Point Guard!
With Nash looking dapper in his blue suit and shimmering tie, LB came to this game ready not only to score the ball but to lead his team. From the opening tip he was aggressive with the ball and made the normally solid defense of Derek Fisher look positively porous (I almost said Nash-like, but I resisted). He was confident and his mates were confident in him. He called for the ball and directed traffic on offense. He was great.
His line of 22 pts, 7 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers wasn't the belle of the box score, but his decision-making and poise facing hard traps made him the MVP of this game. That's right, Big Fella, give The Blur his due.
On the radio today I heard a caller give Gentry credit for letting Leandro know that he doesn't have to play like Steve Nash but to channel his inner Devin Harris and that's the point guard we saw in this game.
He used simple screens to create enough space and instead of trying to make a Nash-like pocket bounce pass to a rolling big man he used his speed to turn the corner and force the defense to collapse. His kicks out were crisp and when the Lakers tried to trap him either baseline or sideline, he made a smart pass that his teammates were able to swing to the open man.
Even though his jump shot wasn't falling (0-4 from three) this was probably the best game I've seen him play. Very impressive.
Other Random Bullets of Non-verbal Drivel
- The Suns defense was smart and active. They doubled Gasol at times and generally traded jump shots for paint scoring all game long (64 - 48 points in the paint advantage for Phx). Score board
- Good thing too, because other than Barnes and a couple of Hill mid-range J's, the rest of the guys were ice cold from long range. Barnes was 5-7 from three while the rest of the fellas were 1 - 11
- It wasn't just from range, either. The Suns missed 16 free throws and Shaq only accounted for 5 of those
- How do you shoot 62% from the line and win? You get 22 more attempts
- But before you Lakers fans start going all Chris "RuPaul" Bosh on us, the calls were fair. There were bad calls both ways and good calls both ways. The Suns were simply more active and more aggressive.
- Leandro knocked out Kobe's tooth with an elbow on a drive
- Matt Barnes clothes-lined Kobe "going for a loose ball"
- Kobe elbowed JRich in the face then hit him in the chops with the ball to "create separation" -- all in the same play
- Ariza is very good and makes the Lakers much better
- Luke Walton is not as smart as he looks. He was horrible
- Lamar Odom got jobbed on his 6th foul but he earned it by over complaining on his 4th, which was clearly a good call. Generally, when you body check your opponent to the floor, you are going to get a whistle.
- Goran Dragic set a back pick on Mbenga to free Shaq for a lob / dunk
- I like Robin Lopez' hair ... and I really liked his block on Farmar at the end of the 3rd qtr which led to a layup for LB. That was a 4-point swing and the difference between a 10 point lead and a 6 point lead. Huge
- Mark Jackson, in "praising" Matt Barnes being "true to himself," lauded the fact that "Barnes is not afraid to pull up and take a bad 3"
- I wish Matt had just a little more fear ...
- The Suns didn't take any bad shots. Everything was either in the paint or a clean open look with the floor balanced and the team ready to rebound or retreat and defend. No bad 3s from Barnes or anyone else.
The Big Run ... (and I don't mean Shaq)
After Kobe went all Kobe in the 3rd qtr to turn a 10 pt Suns lead into a 5 pt deficit, the Suns went on a 13-0 run to right the ship and showed some big Cassell Nuts for a change. Even Grant Hill said that "a couple of months ago we would have folded."
Here's the tick tock of that stretch:
- Odom picks up his 4th foul by body checking Grant Hill and complains. Lakers 75 - 70
- LB drives baseline, barely walking the tightrope, and finds Lou (who always moves to the right spot without the ball) for a layup. Lakers 75-72.
- Kobe misses a 3 (finally) which leads to Shaq's
Kevin LoveWes Unseld outlet pass for a wide open layup for Hill. Lakers 75-74.
- Kobe misses a pull-up jump shot (finally) over Shaq on a pick and roll.
- LB breaks his man down and drives to the rim, elbowing Kobe in the face and earning the foul. Poetic justice. LB missed the free throw. Kobe losses a tooth. Suns 76-75.
- Off LB's missed FT, Barnes outworked Powell for a tip in. Suns 78-75.
- Hill blocks Fisher's shot from behind (did Fisher actually play in this game?) and hits LB for a wide open layup. Suns 80-75.
- Shaq challenges Kobe's drive. Kobe misses (again). Suns rebound.
- Suns move the ball well, resulting in Barnes entering the lane and drawing Gasol. Barnes finds Shaq for a dunk and 1. Suns 83-75.
Now that was a run. Live by the Kobe. Die by the Kobe. But if you are at this point of the article looking for the Kobe smack down ... sorry. I love the way KB24 plays the game even if I hate all the ugly people in Phoenix who wear his jersey to Suns games.
Reality Dose time ...
The Lakers really didn't play all that well. Their offense was discombobulated all game long. The triangle looked like a rhombus and their bench was a complete non-factor. The Machine was broke. The Farmar planted roots. Mbenga was forced to play too much. The only bright spot from the LA perspective was Adam Morrison staying seated.
It was a great win for the Suns. A well needed boost that will only matter if the boys follow it up with continued defensive effort on the perimeter and smart play from the likes of Matt "Not Afraid Enough of Taking Bad Shots" Barnes.
[Note by Mike Lisboa, 03/03/09 10:01 AM PST ]
Steve Kerr Genius Point Awarded: In recognition for putting together an effective second team that's been allowing the starters much needed rest and not giving back leads. Amundsen and Barnes were both cheap free agent signings, while Dudley, like Boris Diaw before him, has become the throw-in diamond in the rough. All 3 have been playing well above their previously perceived ceilings. Even Goran Dragic has been less embarrassing of late! Alvin Gentry deserves some credit for going 10 deep, but he couldn't do that without Kerr's additions (or his pride-swallowing canning of Terry Porter).
(And Vimeo didn't like the video, so it has been disappeared.)