There’s a reason they call this time of year March Madness.
The Suns and Lakers played a game as wild as anything we saw in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, with the Lakers finally prevailing 139-137 in triple overtime of a contest neither team deserved to lose.
In a game of twists and turns, this one turned definitively when Grant Hill fouled out with 2:18 remaining in the third overtime after committing his second foul of the possession in a span of 12 seconds defending Kobe Bryant with the Suns up two.
After a very physical trio of overtimes in which the refs really let both sides play, I was shocked that they would foul Hill out on a play with a minuscule bit of body contact that happens on every play that was followed by a Kobe dive into the baseline for dramatic effect.
In Hill’s latest All-Defensive team showing, the 38-year-old held Kobe to 1-for-8 shooting in the overtimes. Immediately upon Hill’s foul out Kobe drilled a three in Jared Dudley’s face that started a 7-0 Lakers run.
Hill’s foul out also put Vince Carter back on the floor, and after Channing Frye knocked down another three to cut the deficit to two, Carter missed a go-ahead three and Kobe slammed the door with a floater in transition, the kind of hero shot Bryant loves but one he should not have taken because otherwise the Suns would have been forced to foul and a miss would have put Phoenix back in position to steal the game.
It was the kind of play Henry Abbott was speaking about when he presented on how “Bad decisions in sports skew macho” at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this month. The smart play would have been to wait for the foul, but Kobe skewed macho, and he’s just lucky the shot went it. Unless it’s a wide open layup teams just don’t shoot in those situations when they can run clock.
The NBA’s highest-scoring game this season started with a 66-60 first half highlighted by better than 50 percent shooting per side and a combined 29 three-point attempts.
But this old western shootout turned into a Lakers rout when Los Angeles opened the half on a 14-3 run to take a 17-point lead. It doesn’t seem possible considering the triple overtime outcome, but the lead ballooned to 21 points when Kobe knocked down a triple with 4:40 left in the third as the Suns had seemingly run out of gas after a solid first half.
Nash cut into that lead with three seemingly inconsequential three-pointers in a row as Phoenix closed the third on an 18-6 run to make the lead a manageable nine points.
The bench took it from there with an early 10-0 fourth-quarter run against Los Angeles’ reserves with that Laker killer Aaron Brooks responsible for seven of the points in that spurt.
The lead got pushed up to nine with 3:44 remaining, but three more threes from Nash, Frye and Hill, respectively, sent this one to overtime. Hill was the key guy on the tying possession, grabbing an offensive rebound off a Carter miss before spotting up in the corner for the tying long ball.
The Suns pulled a Houdini act to get out of the first overtime as well with Steve Nash of all people rebounding a Frye missed three and getting it back to him to draw a foul on Lamar Odom as he attempted another game-tying triple. Frye calmly stepped to the line and knocked down all three foul shots with a second remaining to send this thing to a second overtime.
With under a minute left and the Suns down one in double OT Nash made one of the more insane passes I’ve ever seen. With Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher trapping him along the sidelines, Nash flipped a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Gortat while he was falling out of bounds.
The degree of difficulty on the play is such that I’m not sure another player in the NBA makes that pass; it seemed he needed to call timeout or the Suns were headed to a sure turnover.
Instead Gortat drove to draw in the defense and had the presence of mind to dish it out to the red-hot Frye, who knocked down a three to put the Suns up two. After a stop the Suns had a possession to salt the game away but Nash could not convert on a driving layup (he felt he was fouled by Gasol) and then Pau drilled a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession to tie things up once again.
The Suns had one more chance to win it, but they chose to make Dudley the triggerman instead of Hill with a play that went to Grant. However, the pass was a bit behind Hill and he could not recover to get a shot off in the 2.5 seconds that remained before the fateful triple overtime period.
In a game of this length, it’s no surprise that the final box score featured some video game numbers.
Steve Nash went for 19 points and 20 assists in almost 50 minutes of work, hitting his first five three-pointers. Channing Frye scored a career-high 32 points on 11-for-23 shooting (5-for-13 threes) in 57 minutes of action. Marcin Gortat logged 53 minutes off the bench, tossing up a 24-16, Vince Carter needed 23 shots (making seven of them) to get his 17 points and Hill put up a 11-10 to go with all his defense on Kobe.
Aaron Brooks continued to torch the Lakers with 15 points in 13:40 to earn point a minute man status and Mickael Pietrus nearly did as well with 11 in 12:37. Hakim Warrick played just 5:37 as he’s not a great matchup against LA.
On the flip side, Kobe produced a ho-hum 42 points, 12 boards and nine assists on 15-for-31 shooting, while Lamar Odom went for 29-16-5, Pau Gasol 24-13 and Artest 18-5. Derek Fisher missed all seven of his shots and managed just two points in over 46 minutes.
My biggest complaint for Gentry in this one involves playing Carter for 40 minutes, most critically from crunch time until midway through the second overtime. Carter missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation and another one at the end of triple overtime, shots it would have been nice to see somebody else take.
The Suns lost 20 points in Carter’s 40 minutes, which by my math means they gained 20 points in the 23 minutes he sat. Plus/minus is incredibly variable, but that’s telling, especially when the next closest guy (Robin Lopez) lost just five points in 10 minutes. On the flip side the Suns gained 10 points in Dudley’s 30 minutes, a team high, and the non-Carter Suns shot 53 percent from the floor.
With the loss the Suns dropped three games behind Memphis but they showed off their propensity to put a scare into a contender if they do reach postseason play.
When the Suns’ shots are falling like this they are still a very dangerous team, and the fight needed to battle back from 21 down late in the third and continuously throughout the three overtimes made for an impressive showing of resilience.
The Suns did not deserve to lose possibly their most exciting game of the regular season, but when the buzzer finally sounded they could probably emphasize with some of the college teams that lost this weekend in similar heartbreaking fashion.
The Lakers were missing Andrew Bynum but this was a real solid showing against a Lakers squad that has now won 13 of 14 since the All-Star break. … Los Angeles had not allowed an opponent to reach the century mark in regulation since the All-Star break (the Suns scored 112 in regulation), and their defense had given up 87.9 points per game since the break before this one. … The Lakers had not won a triple overtime game since taking down the Philadelphia Warriors 151-147 on Dec. 8, 1961, according to ESPN Stats and Info. … The Lakers had never previously won a triple overtime game at home, and it was only their second such home game ever. … The Suns have lost four straight triple OT games dating back to 1997, with all four coming on the road. … Gortat helped the Suns stay close in the battle of the boards, losing it 56-52 after winning it 42-36 in regulation. The Lakers outrebounded them 49-32 during their last trip to Staples. … The Suns knocked down 17 threes after hitting a club record 22 in their last visit. … The Lakers scored nine points in each of the three overtime periods.