Old Soft Show
They looked like the Lakers of old, but not the ones who took three titles in a row as a city smiled upon a championship franchise.
The Lakers of the last two games were akin to those from earlier this season -- confused on defense, error-prone on offense and gatherers of losses, two, three or four at a time.
The first-round series held such promise for the Lakers early on, as Coach Phil Jackson donned his 2000 championship ring, Kobe Bryant bought into a share-the-ball mantra and the defense held the Phoenix Suns under 100 three consecutive times.
Then the Suns became the Suns, averaging 120 points and shooting 52.7% over the last two games.
Bryant took it upon himself to do more on offense in Game 6, which he did efficiently as a scorer, making 20 of 35 shots and scoring 50 points, although it led to stagnation at both ends of the court for other players and, ultimately, a loss.
This being the NBA, there’s always tomorrow, which would actually be today, when the Lakers get a final chance to avoid becoming a statistic. Only seven teams in league history have come back to win a best-of-seven series after trailing, 3-1.
The Lakers have tried to brush it off -- “We were up, 3-1, so what?” Lamar Odom said. “Doesn’t matter now. This is Game 7" -- but a sea change will have to happen in the desert if they are to become only the 18th NBA team in 93 tries to win a Game 7 on the road.
The Lakers tried to run with the Suns in Game 6 but were careless -- Bryant had seven turnovers overall and the team had a numbing nine in the second quarter. Bryant’s teammates were then reduced to passive onlookers in the second half, Sun forward Tim Thomas noting they looked like they “just wanted to throw the ball to Kobe and stand around.”
Bryant took nine shots in the fourth quarter and seven in the five-minute overtime. He scored 12 points in overtime and the rest of the team combined for one, a Devean George free throw.
“In the fourth quarter there, when we were kind of stagnant, I went ahead and did what I had to do to keep us in the game, gave us a good opportunity to win it,” Bryant said. “Timmy just hit a big three.
“It’s concerning because we didn’t go out there and play aggressively. We didn’t play loose. We didn’t play our style of basketball. We started thinking about shots, being a little timid, and that can’t happen.”
The defense slipped as well, uninterested and disoriented again as the Suns made 46 of 81 shots (56.8%).
“It was terrible, man,” Bryant said. “We really played an awful game defensively. That’s one of the things we talked about. We should do much, much better [today].”
The Suns have been playing loose and acting looser, the effects of a team rediscovering its scoring zing after a three-game drought. They were almost flawless in Thursday’s overtime: 21 points, seven-for-eight shooting, six for six on free throws.
Afterward, Steve Nash announced in the locker room, “Guys, calm down. We’re only up 4-2 and we’ve got another game to go,” summarizing their belief that the series would be over if some late Laker heroics hadn’t stolen Game 4 from them.
Not to mention, tonight they get back Raja Bell, their top defender and third-leading scorer during the season, who was suspended for Game 6 because of his hard foul of Bryant in Game 5.
Neither Bell nor Bryant wanted to further their insult-laden battle on Friday.
“Nah,” Bell told reporters in Phoenix. “What happened, happened. I’ve got bigger things to do, which I’m sure he does. It was a self-check for myself of what I should be doing in these playoffs. Sometimes you get caught up in personal things and there’s a bigger picture out there.”
Said Bryant, when asked about going up against Bell: “Payback? I don’t even think about payback.”
Tonight will be one last chance for the Lakers, many of whom have never played in a Game 7. Odom, who played in one with the Miami Heat, might have said it best.
“They just took a game the same way we took a game from them, right?” he said. “We’ve got to just go out back here and play our best game of the year. For some of us, our best game of our lives if we want to go to Phoenix and win Game 7.”