Tag: Lakers Suns Game 6

Amare Stoudemire is still a beast

1 Comment

Given space, given simple one-on-one coverage, nobody is stopping Amar’e Stoudemire. He is too strong. He is too quick. The man is a beast and if it is just you between him and the basket you are about to be in a poster.

Pau Gasol was the victim Sunday. Just watch.

The only question: When Amar’e is throwing down monster dunks next season, what uniform will he be wearing?

Lakers looking ahead to Celtics, Suns wonder what is next

Leave a comment

Phil Jackson told Paul Pierce this is the matchup he wanted. Kobe just sees another hurdle in his way. Alvin Gentry only sees Kobe Bryant. Steve Nash tries to see the future.


NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 6: Slovenian feud almost forced a Game 7


Vujacic_Dragic.jpg“I’m going to kill him.”

That was Kobe Bryant’s comment about teammate Sasha Vujacic to TNT’s Craig Sager after the game. He was kidding. Probably.

But I would not have wanted to be Vujacic on the plane ride back to Los Angleles — it was Vujacic who made the play that swung the momentum to the Suns in the fourth quarter. Vujacic personal feud — his cage match with Goran Dragic — led to a play that ignited the Phoenix crowd, turning what had been into a demoralizing rout into a game Kobe needed his brand of heroics to save.

Here’s how it went down: It’s less than a minute into the fourth quarter and the Lakers were up 17 — and had taken the crowd totally out of it — when Goran Dragic got by Sasha and made a little five foot floater in the lane.

As they started back up the court, Dragic was chirping and standing right behind Vujacic, getting in in his ear. So Vujacic threw his arms up straight in the air, so that his bicep area caught Dragic on the jaw. Dragic fell to the ground, the referees conferred and Vujacic got a flagrant 1 foul — the Suns got two shots and the ball.

This whole incident was very much like a soccer match. Very European. Vujacic couldn’t do the mature thing and walk away, so like a guy going for the ball with a slide tackle he was sure to send a little message. But the hit wasn’t that hard and Dragic acted like a sniper shot him. He should have had the trainer come out and spray that magic soccer spray on him that cures all wounds instantly. He was fine 20 seconds later.

Everyone was overacting.

Vujacic said after the game Dragic was talking about Sasha’s family. Dragic says he was talking to himself. Whatever, they were going at each other. These two have bad blood dating back to the Slovenian national team last summer — which Vujacic was cut from after he missed most of camp with injuries. Dragic is one of that team’s stars.

Bottom line is Sasha’s foul got Dragic going, and he went on a personal 8-0 run against the Lakers to make it a game again. The Suns went on a 20-8 run that made it a game again until Kobe took over in the last two minutes.

But he likely would not have needed to if Vujacic had not awoken the sleeping Suns. And that is why his flight back to LA was very uncomfortable.

NBA Playoffs: Artest, Fisher came up big when they needed to


Artest_layup.jpgComing into this year’s playoffs, a lot of people would have pointed to Ron Artest and Derek Fisher as potential weaknesses for the Lakers. Both players are battle-tested veterans who bring hustle and toughness to the floor every time they play. However, Artest and Fisher are also a step or three slow for their positions at this point in their careers, and both struggled to make shots all season. (Artest shot 41.4% from the floor; Fisher shot an abysmal 38%.)

Artest’s struggles from the field and occasionally questionable decision-making were to be expected to some degree; even so, many fans questioned whether the Lakers would have been better off simply keeping Trevor Ariza in the off-season. Artest’s brand of defense was a welcome addition to the Lakers, but it often looked like he was throwing away possessions when the Lakers had the ball. Role players on a team like the Lakers are expected to abide by one cardinal rule — know your role. It seemed like Artest forgot that edict at times, and fans noticed. (Witness the Laker crowd audibly shouting “Nooooo!” at Artest whenever he’s lined up an early-in-the-clock three this postseason.) 
Fisher was much more widely derided than Artest, and for good reason. Fisher has always been more valuable than the numbers show, but Fisher’s numbers were truly horrific this season. Of the 67 qualifying point guards, Derek Fisher finished the regular season 63rd in PER. In fact, because of his low PER and how many minutes he played, Fisher ranked 324 out of 331 NBA players in Estimated Wins Added: Basically, the stat says that only six players cost their teams more wins than Derek Fisher cost the Lakers this season. Not something you generally read about the starting point guard on a team heading to the Finals. Fisher was bad enough during the regular season that many Lakers fans were openly begging for GM Mitch Kupchak to get Kirk Hinrich or Devin Harris at the trade deadline, even though both of them were struggling as well.
Amid all the calls for change in the roster or the rotation during the regular season, Phil Jackson and the Laker front office stood behind their oldest player and their newest acquisition, keeping both of them in the starting lineup throughout the regular season. After the last two games of the Western Conference Finals, it looks like Jackson and Co. put their faith in the right people. 
In game five of the Lakers-Suns series, Fisher was quietly spectacular; he tallied 22 points and six assists on 7-12 shooting from the field. Artest was terrible for the first 47:58 of the game, but more than made up for it with his spectacular game-winning put-back as time expired. 
That game-winner clearly gave Artest confidence for game six, because he did absolutely everything right on Saturday night. Artest played with aggression and hustle, beating the Suns to every loose ball and taking the ball right at the teeth of the Phoenix defense whenever they gave him a chance to do so. Artest’s infamously streaky outside shot made the trip to Phoenix as well; he went 4-7 from beyond the arc in game six, leading all players in made three-pointers. Count on Ron Artest to finally put it all together in front of a hostile crowd during the most important game of the season. 
For his part, Fisher wasn’t as effective as he was in game five, but he did what he needed to do in key moments to help the Lakers get the win. When the Suns made their big post-flagrant run in the fourth quarter, it was Fisher who made the key plays that got the Lakers back on track. Not only did Fisher make two big jumpers when the Lakers desperately needed to get some offense going, but he drew a key charge on Amar’e Stoudemire that took away some of Phoenix’s momentum. However old Derek Fisher gets, it seems like he can always be counted on to hit big shots and use his savvy to draw fouls on unsuspecting opponents. 
Before the playoffs, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest looked like two old, slow players whose lack of explosiveness and streaky outside shots were bogging the Laker offense down. After the conference finals, they look like two crafty veterans whose defensive intensity, toughness, and savvy allowed the Lakers to get into the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. I wonder what they’ll look like after the finals. 

NBA Finals, Lakers Suns Game 6: When the going got tough, Kobe got going


Bryant_airplane.jpgWhen asked “Kobe or LeBron?” my answer the last year has been “LeBron for the first 42 minutes of the game, Kobe for the last six.”

Saturday night is exactly why.

Kobe is the best closer in the NBA. Kobe is better at making tough shots than anyone in the NBA. Kobe thrives in pressure better than anyone in the NBA.

That was all on display in Game 6. After the Suns made a dramatic run to cut the deficit to three — Sasha Vujacic will be riding home with the luggage on the Lakers flight — Kobe Bryant took over. Nine points in the final two minutes. He sealed it. He was the closer. He is the reason the Lakers won 111-103.

“What can you say about Kobe?” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “There’s an intense game going on and you almost have to laugh at what he does. I thought we played good defense on him and he just hit tough shot after tough shot.”

The Suns did play great defense. But Kobe made the two signature shots of this series.

The first came at the two-minute mark in the fourth and the Lakers up just three. Los Angeles isolated Kobe on the right wing and the Suns came with the hard double of Grant Hill and Channing Frye. Kobe spun with a quick step right but it didn’t create much room so Kobe just elevated with two men in his face and hit the 21-foot jumper.

Then with 35 seconds left, and the Lakers up just five, Kobe had the ball up high on the right side against Hill and took two hard dribbles right, got no real space but elevated anyway and drained a 23-foot jumper (with his foot on the line).

Then the fading away Kobe patted Gentry on the behind playfully, smiled, and did an airplane run down the court.

A plane that flew the Lakers to the NBA Finals for three straight years.

There wasn’t anything the Suns could do, there is no shame in how they played. This is what Kobe does. He is a cold-blooded assassin. He thrives when it is all on the line. This is why the Lakers are champions. Kobe is why they have a chance to be again.

“He is the best player in basketball. I don’t even think it’s close,” Gentry said.

Not in the final couple minutes it’s not.