For the Phoenix Suns and their limited roster to hang with Western Conference playoff teams, they need to be nearly flawless in all aspects of the game.
Shots have to fall, defensive rotations must be crisp, and Suns bigs need to keep the opposition off the glass while anchoring the paint defensively.
Phoenix did none of that on Friday night in Los Angeles and it resulted in a 111-99 loss to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the Suns’ 10th loss in their last 11 games in Staples Center.
Although Phoenix showed fight in erasing a 20-point second-half deficit to cut the Los Angeles lead to 95-90 with 4:28 remaining, the Lakers thoroughly dominated the Suns in every aspect of the game.
They out-rebounded the Suns 52-36, made 53.0 percent of their shots to Phoenix’s 45.6, shot at a 45.5 percent clip from distance to the Suns’ 30.8 percent mark, and scored a season-high 54 points in the paint to Phoenix’s 38.
Oh yeah, then there’s that Kobe Bryant fellow. The Black Mamba once again torched the Suns, this time for 36 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals with half of his points coming in the third quarter when the Lakers ran away with it.
Until Kobe took over, the Suns looked like they could hang with the Lakers. They jumped out to a 25-21 lead at the end of the first quarter and were knotted up at 48 with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
But the Lakers sprinted into the locker room on a 9-0 run as the Suns turned the ball over three times and missed both of their shots in the final 2:02 to trail 57-48 at halftime.
Even after the Laker spurt, the Suns still had to be encouraged at halftime. They were shooting 51.2 percent from the field,had 14 and 9, Bryant was on pace for his season average with 14 and the Suns were out-rebounding the NBA’s biggest team, 20-18.
Soon enough, however, it became clear the Suns’ play was only a mirage and the Lakers looked like men amongst boys. Phoenix’s patented inconsistency kicked in and the Lakers exploded in the third quarter while the Suns’ offense stalled.
With Phoenix trailing 65-61 and 9:15 left in the quarter, the Suns missed 13 of their next 14 shots and the Lakers lead quickly ballooned to 20 with 47 ticks left in the third.
The Suns settled for jump shot after jump shot while Bryant caught fire., who has often been Phoenix’s barometer for success, missed four jumpers during that stretch and the Suns’ offense had no rhythm.
Behind nine fourth-quarter points and a monster tip-slam from former Laker, the Suns cut the Lakers lead to five with 4:28 remaining. But Los Angeles scored on three of its next four possessions, while Phoenix missed its next three shots. Bryant and company built their lead back to 101-90 and there was no more light at the end of the tunnel for the Suns.
It would be easy to beat the Suns up for poor execution, bad defense or 15 first-half turnovers. But the fact of the matter is, the Suns have no business hanging with the Lakers, or any team of that caliber, on a consistent basis.
The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, the Suns don’t. Mike Brown has two seven-footers in his starting lineup, Alvin Gentry has Gortat and a 6-foot-11 two guard in Frye. The only way for the Suns to win games like this is to catch Bryant on a bad shooting night and drop in a barrage of three-pointers.
Kobe went off, and the Suns made only 8-of-24 threes. Game, set, match. Falling to the Lakers on the road shouldn’t come as a surprise for the Suns, and offensive lulls are standard procedure by now.
But to allow an offensively-challenged Lakers team to score a season-high 111 points — only their fourth time over the century mark all season — is alarming. To let the often-criticized Lakers reserves shoot 9-for-11 from the field for 21 points in the first half is nothing to be proud of.
The Suns have now allowed their last four opponents to surpass the century mark and it’s no coincidence they have come up empty handed in every game. In a season full of inconsistency, the one aspect of the Suns’ game that had remained constant — defense — is now missing in action.
Phoenix moved to 12-19 with the loss and it won’t get any easier as the Suns host the Lakers on Sunday. Unless the Suns swing a blockbuster trade in the next 48 hours, Sunday could be much of the same for a floundering Suns team.
- Hidden in the Suns’ struggles was Gortat’s huge night on his 28th birthday. The Polish Hammer went for 21 points and 16 rebounds in 42 minutes against arguably the best front line in the NBA. Much of that was a product of ’s 17 assists, but Gortat was stellar nonetheless.
- Brown played arguably his best game as a Sun as he scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting in 20 second-half minutes. After picked up his fourth foul with 8:00 left in the third, Brown came in to try and check Bryant and didn’t leave the floor for the rest of the game. Brown hadn’t played in six of the Suns’ last seven games entering Friday’s game, but he proved to be one of the few bright spots against the Lakers.