NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 2: Showcasing the impressive, empowered, and balanced Laker offense

70 Comments

bryant.pngAfter the Lakers’ dominant performance in Game 1, Alvin Gentry wisely noted that “[the Suns] can survive a Kobe game, but [they] can’t survive a Lamar game, and
then Pau playing extremely well, and then Jordan Farmar really coming
in and having a solid game and then Artest playing the way he is.”

He was right, in a sense. Gentry’s statement deserves clarification, though: the Suns can survive a big scoring game from Kobe, but not necessarily a big game from Kobe. Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals could be Bryant’s best performance of the postseason so far, and he only scored 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting. The real gem in Kobe’s stat line was his 13-assist mark, and it was Bryant’s facilitation of a brilliant Laker offense that brought L.A. their eighth consecutive win.

Kobe’s 13 assists not only set a personal best for his playoff career, but according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, it was the highest assist total by any Laker since Magic Johnson matched the mark in 1997.

Of course, the immediate relevance of Kobe’s terrific performance is far more pressing than its historical context. It’s nice to know how this one game stacks up in comparison to Kobe’s other playoff performances and those of his fellow Lakers, but it’s far more crucial at this stage to understand and embrace just how much he helped his team to take a commanding 2-0 series lead last night.

The Suns are not a strong defensive team, regardless of their current reputation. That said, the most prominent story coming out of Game 2 should not be how Phoenix lost the game, but how Los Angeles won it. Stories of failure make for far more compelling theater, but in this case the Suns’ poor defense was only the catalyst for the loss. The Lakers, fueled by ball movement that was epitomized but not limited to Bryant’s assists, played like the elite offensive outfit that they are.

It’s a bit unfair that Bryant’s performance stole the show, especially considering how ridiculously effective Pau Gasol (29 points, nine rebounds, five assists) was in the fourth quarter. Gasol was a go-to option for the Lakers down the stretch, and though the Suns were within striking distance at points in the fourth, it was Pau’s scoring — not Bryant’s — that pushed Los Angeles over the top.

I think what makes Kobe’s night stand out amongst that of his teammates was how unique his playmaking was. A number of Lakers were productive scorers — Ron Artest finished with 18 points, Lamar Odom with 17, Andrew Bynum with 13, and Jordan Farmar with 11 — and all of them willing passers as well, but none of those contributors are in a position to defer.

Gasol was fantastic. He was put in a situation to succeed due to his skills, match-up, and circumstances, and he came through in flying colors. He’s still the second fiddle on this team though, and his dominance was by design. The Lakers (or more appropriately, Kobe) worked through Gasol with the game on the line, and he produced.

I know this all may seem like undue lavishing of an oft-praised star, but Kobe will always lie at the crux of what the Lakers hope to accomplish. In Game 2, he faced pressure but did anything but struggle. There will obviously be times between now and the end of the Lakers’ season where L.A. will need more than 21 points from Bryant to win, but his scoring in those situations is no more important than his willing deference in others.

That’s when Gasol will truly shine. It’s when Odom will go from from invisible to ever-present, and when Artest will command defensive attention. As the Celtics continue their quest to upset the Magic in the East, keep these Lakers at the back of your mind. They’re out for blood, championship-ready, and clicking both mentally and physically.

Former Magic player Keith Appling arrested for third time in four months

Orlando Magic's Keith Appling (15) makes a shot in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Jerami Grant (39) and Nerlens Noel (4) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
Leave a comment

Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in May.

Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in June.

Former Magic player Keith Appling was arrested in August.

Robert Allen of the Detroit Free Press:

Former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling was arrested after a traffic stop Sunday, his third arrest since May, Detroit police said.

Appling, 24, was pulled over at about 9 p.m. on the city’s east side after driving away from a traffic stop, and a gun was found in a bag on the side of the road, according to an Associated Press report.

Kyle Lowry wishes Bismack Biyombo a happy 48th birthday

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 talks to Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bismack Biyombo might have left Toronto, but he didn’t escape jokes about his age from the Raptors.

Biyombo – according to official records, which have been disputed – turned 24 yesterday.

Unofficially? Kyle Lowry:

Hakeem Olajuwon, David Stern enshrined in FIBA Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27:  Hakeem Olajuwon (L) greets NBA Commissoner David Stern looks on during the 2013 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 27, 2013 in in the Brooklyn Bourough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The FIBA Hall of Fame (not to be confused with the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is not to be confused with the NBA Hall of Fame, which doesn’t exist) enshrined Hakeem Olajuwon and David Stern in its 2016 class.

Olajuwon won a gold medal with Team USA in the 1996 Olympics. A Nigeria native, he has helped promote basketball in Africa.

After growing the sport’s popularity stateside, Stern pushed to globalize basketball as NBA commissioner.

The full list of 2016 inductees:

PLAYERS
Panagiotis Fasoulas (Greece)
Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria/USA)
Manuel Raga (Mexico)
Juan Antonio San Epifanio (Spain)
Michele Timms (Australia)
COACH
Jorge Canavesi (Argentina)

CONTRIBUTOR
David J. Stern (USA)

The criteria:

The over-riding objective of the Hall of Fame is to reflect the history of the sport.
The honour may be awarded posthumously.
The key conditions for induction to the FIBA Hall of Fame are:
•    Outstanding achievement at the international level from a personal effort or initiative
•    Having contributed to the performances of players, technical officials, coaches, and administrators or to the global development of basketball.

Olajuwon and Stern seem to fit the bill.

Now, if only there were a Hall of Fame that appropriately recognized NBA achievements.

Blake Griffin went back to Oklahoma for alumni weekend, heard Thunder recruiting pitch

Leave a comment

Blake Griffin reportedly doesn’t want to leave Los Angeles when his contract is up next summer. This is a guy who has done stand up, is executive producer of a television show, and is generally loving the perks of living in Los Angeles.

Still, the dream lives on in Oklahoma City that he will come in and be the next star there and pair with Russell Westbrook.

Griffin was back in his native Oklahoma for alumni weekend with the OU basketball team, and he heard the sales pitch.

Griffin blows this off, just like he is going to try to blow off the dozens and dozens of reporters who will ask him about his summer plans during the season.

But he has to know the recruiting pitches are coming all season, especially when he visits OKC.