Beware the small sample size. After cruising past their long-time roadblock, the Spurs, pundits rushed to declare that the Suns had gotten religion and committed themselves to the defensive end (after all, how else could they have defied expectations so much?). Forget that this Suns team was actually more unbalanced -- more efficient at offense than any of the 7SOL-era Suns teams and worse defensively. Well, after the Lakers torched the Suns en route to an easy 21-point Game 1 win, SB Nation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, reminds us that until/unless the Suns demonstrate they can slow down Kobe & Co., we shouldn't be too surprised:
The Suns didn't play any more D than they did when they visited Staples Center in the regular season. Perhaps even less, if that's possible, as the Lakers roared to a 128 to 107 Game One victory, ringing up a dazzling 1.39 points per possession. Nash looked way less formidable than the last two point guards the Lakers faced in these playoffs. And Hill didn't even come close to bothering Kobe, who blew up like that Icelandic volcano no one can pronounce. His 40 points (on 28 shooting possessions, with only two turnovers) turned the Suns' defense to ash.
But it wasn't just Bryant's virtuoso performance -- that included an array of unguardable, demoralizing jumpers, like this first-quarter buzzer beater -- that should give the Suns reason to worry.
Pau Gasol and, particularly, Lamar Odom eviscerated the Suns front line, crashing the boards and scoring seemingly at will on an assortment of spins and hook shots from close in. Indeed, it what might turn out to be a pivotal matchup in the series, Odom destroyed the Suns' sixth-man, Channing Frye, with the Lakers racking up a +24 point differential with Kloe Kardashian's husband on the court. Again from Silver Screen and Roll:
Lamar Odom was sensational as well, turning in one of those "Hey, that's why we pay Lamar Odom!" games that occur at random every couple of weeks. In the first half, he got the attack rolling with powerful drives to the rim and a soft touch from the perimeter. Chalk up 19 points on 15 shots for LO, with only a single turnover. On the boards, too, he was unstoppable, tearing down 19, including seven offensive. That's the Lamar we remember from the championship drive last year.
Don't think the fun stopped there. Pau Gasol had little difficulty getting to the basket on a series of spins and dump-offs. He scored 21 on 13 shots.
And that was the other surprising part of the Lakers' dominating Game 1 win: their bench outplayed the Suns' ballyhooed reserves. Frye and fellow Suns supersub Jared Dudley combined for an abysmal 2-12 on three-pointers, killing any hopes of Phoenix keeping pace with the at-times unstoppable Los Angeles attack. But it wasn't just Odom's play off the bench that spurred the Lakers. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown came back to relevancy, with Brown nearly posterizing* Jason Richardson with what would have been one of the all-time most vicious dunks in recent memory.
The Suns will try to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday night.