Coming into the Western Conference Finals there was one clear cut advantage the Phoenix Suns had over the reigning NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers – the bench.
It wasn’t until the Suns returned to Phoenix that their vaunted bench would rise from the ashes like Channing Frye’s jumper.
Frye was suffering from a severe cash of John Starks Syndrome until he found his stroke in the second quarter. Seeing the ball actually pass through the hoop boosted Frye’s confidence and energized the home crowd. Phoenix went on to hang 41 points on the board in a second quarter that would set the tone for their 115-106 victory.
The Bench Mob was beaten in broad day light.
The Suns bench out scored the Lakers 54-20, by far the most telling stat of the game. So confident in his bench was Alvin Gentry that he let Steve Nash and Lucky Stoudemire sit until the last two minutes of the 4th quarter.
Give the Lakers credit, they find new and creative ways to lose games on the road.
If all you did was look at the box score instead of watching the game, you’d swear this series was coming back to Los Angeles with one more mandatory game on the schedule.
Aside from the beating the bench took, L.A. was outhustled all night long.
Phoenix pulled down 51 rebounds to the Lakers 36. What was even more staggering were the 18 offensive boards the Suns wrangled.
Phoenix just wanted it more – plain and simple.
It would seem impossible for the Lakers to lose when Kobe Bryant goes nuclear for 38, 10 and 7 on 15 of 22 shooting with the majority of those shots being contested long range jumpers. The thought that the Lake Show could take an “L” when L.O. has a daily double of 15 and 10 off the bench is stunning.
But the numbers can’t quantify the desire of Phoenix to win.
Alvin Gentry showed his coaching chops by getting his team to give maximum effort.
Pau Gasol has yet to figure out how to attack the zone defense the Suns are betting the series on. As a team, the Lakers are falling in love with the three-ball and as we know she can be a cruel mistress. Mind you, most of the shots are good looks. It’s just that guys like Ron Artest are having trouble hitting the side of the Hollywood Bowl these days. Still, the Lakers are managing to beat Phoenix at their own game in almost every category.
This series might be even but it is still heavily favoring the Purple and Gold if for no other reason than homecourt advantage.
Phoenix is incapable of playing any better and their bench won’t be getting a lift from the Staples Center crowd. But that means nothing if the Lakers aren’t going to play with any intensity.
Credit where credit is due. Coach Gentry might not have a championship gameplan but he’s getting a champion’s effort out of his squad.
Now it’s time for Phil Jackson to get his team to match the Suns intensity – especially the Lakers bench. This series is far from over, at least until the road team wins for the first time. Dropping one in L.A. could all but assure PJ suffers his first series loss ever after taking a 1-0 lead.