Looks Like Another Perfect Day

May 28, 2010 2:20 AM

Redemption for Artest

Kobe hugs Artest.jpgThat was a scary game for the Lakers. They made all the right adjustments, played well on both sides of the ball, led by as many as 18 points, and nearly blew the game. They needed a Ron Artest putback off of a Kobe Bryant airball to pull this one out. But when I heard Channing Frye after the game say his team just didn't get any luck, I had to laugh. Three opportunities on their last possession to tie the game and Jason Richardson banks in a three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left? I'd say that's a lot luckier than Artest's offensive rebound. As poorly as Artest played, he got the game-winning lay-in to give the Lakers the 103-101 win as they take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Before I get into Lakers adjustments and how the Suns hung around in this game, I want to talk about a couple of the final plays of the game. With just over a minute remaining, Artest took a jumper from about the free throw line and missed. For most small forwards it would be a good shot, but Artest has struggled so mightily that it's one he probably should've passed on. But Gasol got the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Artest. And what did Artest do? He instantly put up a three-point shot. He received a lot of flak for that shot and if the Lakers had lost, many would've painted him as the goat for putting up that shot with over 20 seconds left on the shot clock and under a minute remaining in the game. But you know what? It's a shot he had to take. It was a wide open three-pointer, in rhythm that would've put the Lakers up six and essentially put the game away. Artest used to shoot 40 percent from three-point range. I don't know what has happened to him that has caused him to struggle but he still has to take those wide open shots.

But even if Artest hadn't gotten the putback, he shouldn't have been the goat. On the Lakers very next possession Gasol missed a slam dunk that also would've sealed the deal.

And finally, on that last possession - what was Kobe thinking? Bryant had a phenomenal game just missing a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists (he'd probably argue that last shot was a pass to Artest). But with 3.5 seconds left he could've gotten a much better shot than fading out of bounds with two defenders draped all over him.

And for the Suns, some might blame Jason Richardson for not boxing out Artest but I don't really think it's anybody's fault. Richardson had the rim sealed off on the opposite side as he wasn't expecting Bryant to shoot an airball. If that ball grazes the rim the game was going to overtime. Unfortunately for the Suns, Artest was able to sneak in for just his second basket of the game.

Lakers Adjustments:

They prevented Amare Stoudemire from getting to the rim. Every time he drove there was always help - usually from more than one person. It was rare that he was able to create his own shot. The majority of his baskets were off of feeds after guard penetration.

The biggest difference was simply energy level. They rotated much quicker to prevent easy jumpers and everyone was hustling. Even Andrew Bynum was stepping out and defending guys on the perimeter and then hustling back off of pick and rolls.

The other factor that helped their defense was their offense. They had much better shot selection than the previous two games. In Game 3 they put up 32 three-pointers and in Game 4 they had 28. Last night they calmed down a little bit more with just 24 attempts. That numbers is probably still a little high for Phil Jackson's liking but it was an improvement. By not taking those three-pointers, the Suns couldn't run off of those long rebounds. That's one of the easiest ways for the Suns offense to get going.

The Lakers took advantage of their size. They are one of the tallest teams in the league but in Game 4 they were outrebounded on the offensive glass 18-13. The Lakers should never be outrebounded but they weren't hustling to the ball and weren't boxing out. They were being lazy. That ended last night. They outrebounded the Suns on the offensive glass 19-12 and outscored them 18-5 on second chance points.

But despite all these adjustments, the Suns hung around and managed to come back from an 18 point deficit to tie the game in the final seconds.

How the Suns Got Back in the Game:

Two factors: one, the same reason they were trailing earlier - their bench play, and two, Steve Nash.

The bench was the difference in Game 4 as they tallied 54 points to the Lakers 20. In the first half last night though, it was as if they never made the plane to LA. They were one of four from the field with two points. Things changed in the second half though. The Phoenix bench scored 29 points after the break including the first 13 of the fourth quarter. Channing Frye had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Jared Dudley added 10 points.

Then there was Steve Nash. He might be the most skilled player in the NBA. He finished with 29 points on 20 shots and 11 assists. He was making set shots, runners, lay-ups, and every other kind of shot you could think of and almost always with a defender in his face. There was a sequence of about three straight possessions where he somehow shot it over the outstretched arms of 7-footer Gasol and hit nothing but net. I don't know how he keeps doing it.

The Lakers have now won nine Game 5s in a row. They improve to a perfect 8-0 at home in these playoffs and have a chance to close out the series Saturday in Phoenix.

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