That might have been the best game the Lakers have played all season. They dominated ever facet of the game. Just one Laker (Derek Fisher) shot under 50% from the field as the Lakers crushed the Suns 128-107.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were amazing as usual. They will dominate this series but I didn't quite expect this level of domination. Bryant took on the role of closer a quarter early when he scored 21 points on 10 shots in the third. Bryant was able to sit out the final 9 minutes of the game as the Lakers had a 19-point lead when he exited. Bryant was hitting jumpers and driving to the lane. The Suns let Grant Hill and Jared Dudley attempt to guard him one-on-one most of the night and he made them pay. Bryant finished with 40 points on 13 of 23 from the floor.
No one on the Suns can guard Gasol. He's too tall for Amare Stoudemire and too quick and skilled for Robin Lopez. He made 10 of 13 shots for 21 points and had just one turnover. With stats like that from Bryant and Gasol the Lakers needed little else to put away the Suns but they got it nonetheless.
There were three keys to the game I outlined before the series:
1. Bench Play. The Lakers outscored the Suns bench 44-35. That might not seem like a huge deal but it is with these two teams. The Suns bench is supposed to be far superior to the Lakers. They had been getting great production from Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Louis Amundson, and with Lopez back that also adds Channing Frye to the bench. But it was Lamar Odom that led the Lakers bench. He had by far his best game of the playoffs contributing with 19 points and 19 rebounds. If Odom stays as aggressive as he did last night, the Lakers will win this series. In addition to Odom, Jordan Farmar added 10 points and Shannon Brown had 9 points.
2. Jason Richardson. Richardson had been playing amazing this postseason but had been awful against the Lakers during the regular season. Last night, Richardson was somewhere in between. He hit 6 of his 12 shots and had 15 points. Not bad, but he had been averaging nearly 22 points in these playoffs. I think the Lakers would take 15 points per game from Richardson.
3. Pace of the Game. The score would indicate that this was a up and down game but that's not quite how it played out. Both teams were just extremely efficient in their offense. The Suns were a shade under 50% from the field and the Lakers were an outstanding 58% from the field. The Lakers were able to hold the Suns to just four fast break points and actually scored them 9-4 in that category. They made a concerted effort to get back in transition and stop the ball.
The Suns will play better in this series than they did last night but they have to make some major adjustments for Game 2. They have to double-team both Bryant and Gasol. They have to hope the rest of the Lakers aren't able to knock down shots. They must force Lamar Odom to his right and box him out. When Odom is shut down early he'll often disappear for the rest of the game. They need to ratchet up the tempo especially when their second unit is on the court. Dragic needs to push the ball and get people like Amundson, Dudley, and Barbosa involved. If the Suns aren't able to make these adjustments, it's going to be a short series.