PHOENIX — One of the jokes around Suns Land throughout the end of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs was that you’re in a heck of a lot of trouble if you’re counting on Robin Lopez to be your savior.
Since Lopez’s back injury offered such an ambiguous timetable, his health and pending return were often popular subjects when head coach Alvin Gentry met with reporters, but Gentry always tempered the optimism on what a potential Lopez could mean for the Suns.
Although Amare Stoudemire played like the Suns’ front court superstar on this night in Game 3, Lopez turned in the kind of supporting effort that shows why Planet Orange was so antsy to learn when he might return.
I mean, do you really think Jarron Collins would have gone for anywhere close to the 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting that Lopez did on this night?
Lopez was locked in, and he played with a burning fire in his eyes. Even on the bench he was whooping it up after a big play, and he set the unofficial game high in first pumps after a positive Suns play not involving him.
Most impressively, he did a little bit of everything offensively. He nailed mid-range jumpers, he rolled to the hoop for easy hoops, he got a monster tip dunk on Andrew Bynum and he even drew the sixth foul on Lamar Odom in the fourth.
“Big game, huge game,” said Suns forward Jared Dudley. “He took what the defense gave him, hit his first jump shot got him going, got a tip dunk over Bynum, and that just really propelled him to have a great game. [I'm] proud of him.”
A week ago it would have been impossible to fathom Lopez making such a contribution. After missing the Suns’ five-game road trip that started following Lopez’s last regular-season game on March 26, he had been perpetually questionable, with the Suns slowly but surely ruling him out for subsequent stretches of games.
Even entering the San Antonio series, the prevailing thought was that he’d play eventually (he likely would have if it weren’t a sweep) but that the Suns didn’t know when that return date would be and if he’d be able to give them much more than a more athletic version of Jarron Collins due to his rust and lack of conditioning.
Many people thought his health would play a major role in the Spurs series (myself included) and I definitely thought he would be needed against the Lakers’ trees.
But I certainly didn’t expect Lopez to bust out a well-rounded, polished offensive game against long Lakers in his third career postseason game.
Who does he think he is, Brook Lopez?
After the game, Lopez gave the kind of answers he always does after a monster performance, deflecting the praise as if it were a weak shot in the lane and pointing it in the direction of his teammates.
“I credit my teammates [for] getting me the ball when I was open,” he said. “I’m blessed to be playing with a point guard like Steve Nash even more.”
And, “Having a great point guard like Steve Nash and great shooters, (a guy) like Grant Hill and a great post-up player like Amare, they all really free it up for you.”
And even a stock, “I’m just trying to do whatever I can for my team.”
Lopez — who was a game-high +19 — won’t beat his own chest, but I’m free to say Robin had a huge game tonight. After the Lakers dominated the interior so thoroughly in Los Angeles, the Amare-Lopez duo won the game for the Suns on a night when their three-pointers weren’t falling.
Combined with Amare, the Suns’ bigs hit 22-of-32 shots, many of the easy variety.
That’s to be expected from the five-time All-Star seeking a max contract, but even Alvin Gentry said that “offensively he’s been a huge surprise, we didn’t think that he would be that advanced offensively for us” in regards to Lopez.
“I think we saw what we’re all excited about, the progress he’s made this year,” Grant Hill said. “He’s going to be sensational for a long time. He was big for us tonight.”
On a night when Channing Frye proved ineffective once again by missing seven more shots — five of them threes — to drop to 1-for-20 on the series, that didn’t really matter with Lopez adding a skilled offensive game to his usual contributions on the defensive end.
So while it still seems silly that everybody thought of Robin freaking Lopez as the team’s savior, at the same time the Suns wouldn’t have a chance in this series without him.