There are many reasons the Phoenix Suns lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Their defense was tissue soft, Amare Stoudemire didn’t rebound or do much of anything in the paint and the Suns didn’t play with the same rhythm and intensity that characterized their 36-9 run to the conference finals.
All this is accurate, but when you take a closer look at the lineup combinations, this truth emerges: the Lakers killed the Suns when Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol played together.
On one hand you don’t need a math wiz like Wayne Winston to tell you this fairly obvious conclusion, but it really drives the point home when you discover that the trio of Bryant, Gasol and Odom were +21 in 18 minutes of action together in a game won by 21. That combination truly was the difference in Game 1, even from the start as the Lakers finished the first quarter on a 20-6 run after Odom replaced Andrew Bynum.
Furthermore, the Kobe-Pau-Lamar were +13 against Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Amare Frye but even in three minutes against Nash-Richardson-Hill-Amare-Lopez, leading the former Dallas Mavericks consultant Winston to wonder if Lopez is the answer to this lineup issue.
“Suns should spend Game 2 searching for the answer here,” wrote Winston, who thinks the Suns will be fine in all other lineup scenarios. “The series totally hinges on this situation.”
Of course, it’s one thing to crunch the numbers and come to that conclusion and it’s a completely different thing to actually stop the Kobe-Pau-Lamar trio. If you have any ideas, I’m sure the Suns’ coaching staff would be all ears.
I kind of feel like the best guy to check Odom would be Lou Amundson, who was also the Suns’ best per-minute rebounder in Game 1. Amare struggled badly against Odom, who crushed the Suns for 19 points and 19 boards, and Lou’s mix of athleticism and hustle would seem to be the best bet on the elastic Odom.
The Game 1 results also made me think of something Winston wrote before the series. Basically, Odom was ineffective against Oklahoma City (four points worse than average) so Phil Jackson relied more on Andrew Bynum with Gasol in that one, but he killed Utah (27 points better than average), so Jackson used the Odom-Gasol combo a bit more frequently.
In Game 1 Odom played 31 minutes and Bynum just 19. Some of that has to do with the game being a blowout, but I also wonder if this will end up being a Lamar Odom series. I also wonder if Bynum could have given the Lakers more if needed or if his gimpy knee really hampered him that much in his four-point, four-rebound performance.
The aforementioned +/- numbers indicate the Lakers could be just fine with Odom playing starter minutes, but if you consider Odom a starter and Bynum an ineffective reserve then the Lakers’ bench comes that much weaker. It didn’t matter in Game 1 with Kobe, Pau and Lamar playing so well, but maybe it would if the Suns find a way to slow them down a bit (some zone perhaps?).
The other big news of the day revolved around Amare Stoudemire, he of the three rebounds, calling Odom’s 19-19 “lucky.” Now nobody expects Odom to average a 19-19 for the series, but when you’re the main reason for such a “lucky” performance, I wouldn’t be talking if I were Amare, who had a rough news day after it was publicized that his mother was arrested Saturday because she did not have a breath alcohol ignition interlock device installed on her vehicle. Such a device must be on her car until Oct. 30 because of a prior offense, according to police.
Dan Bickley was not impressed with Amare’s word choice to say the least, writing that such comments will only serve to amp up a player like Odom, who often lacks passion and motivation in his play.
Judging by the numbers, the Suns will be OK the rest of the series if Game 1 was just a “lucky” performance by Odom. But as Phil Jackson said, you make your own luck, and Amare and the Suns better make their own luck in defending Kobe, Gasol and Odom if they want to turn this series around.