After defeating the Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles on Friday night the Lakers and Suns were back in action Sunday afternoon in the Valley of the Sun. The Lakers were looking to win their third game of the season against Phoenix, but knew that the Suns weren’t going to go quietly after losing just two days ago.
The Lakers struggles on the road have been well documented this season, and after finishing just 3-3 on their season-long 6-game trip earlier this month, the team was looking to get a road win Sunday in Phoenix. Despite the Suns unimpressive 12-19 record, they still possess plenty of firepower offensively. It was the three-point shooting and the defense that helped lead the Lakers to victory on Friday, and was something they would need to do even better against the Suns on the road Sunday.
The Lakers scored the first two points of the game but it was downhill after that. Phoenix jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. The Lakers had trouble on both ends of the floor, struggling with their shooting and defense, as well as their turnovers. By the time the first quarter ended the Lakers only had two more field goals (9) than turnovers (7). The Lakers inability to hold onto the ball resulted in an array of easy buckets for Phoenix, which allowed them to build a double digit lead in the first quarter.
After a very hot shooting performance on Friday night in which they scored a season-high 111 points, the Lakers were ice cold from the field on Sunday. To make matters worse, Phoenix was able to continue to hit their outside shots. One of the reasons the Lakers managed to keep their lead against Phoenix on Friday was by forcing the Suns to turn the ball over, which masked their own turnover problems. However, in the first quarter on Sunday the Lakers were unable to do the same, which only magnified the problems they had holding onto the ball.
Phoenix was able to fast-break the Lakers on multiple occasions, most of which were off turnovers. The Lakers struggled with their shooting in the paint, but did see several strong interior passes from Pau Gasol. Unfortunately they were unable to do much against the Suns’ fast-break offense, as their inability to close out on shooters and defend the basket gave Phoenix numerous open looks. At the end of the first quarter the Suns led the Lakers 35-19.
After trailing by 16 heading into the second quarter the team was looking to get the game close by halftime. They were able to make a small run and cut the lead to a manageable amount, but were unable to sustain any sort of momentum. Phoenix allowed the Lakers within 14 points before pushing their advantage back over 20.
Not only were the Suns beating up on the Lakers offensively, they were doing it with a balanced attack. By halftime they already had four players in double figure scoring, with the surprising statistic being that Steve Nash wasn’t one of them. Nash did have 10 assists by halftime, though, which accounted for a lot of the points being scored by his teammates.
Another major difference in the first half was the free throw discrepancy. Phoenix was being much more aggressive with the ball and attacking the basket, which allowed them to earn 19 free throw attempts in the first 24 minutes. The Lakers, on the other hand, shot just nine free throw attempts in the first half.
The lone offensive bright spot for Los Angeles in the first half was Kobe Bryant. The Lakers’ leading scorer shot 6-9 in the first half, scoring 12 points, while the rest of the team shot just 11-32 from the floor. Center Andrew Bynum managed to match Bryant’s 12 points in the first half, while adding eight rebounds as well. Still, at halftime it was all about the Suns, as Phoenix led 60-43.
With the Lakers facing a huge deficit going into the second half it was imperative that they started off strong and were able to sustain their momentum for the majority of the third quarter. Unfortunately they weren’t able to do that, and the Suns managed to increase their lead even further. The same problems that plagued the Lakers in the first half continued to give them trouble in the third quarter, as turnovers and poor defense continued to allow Phoenix to build their lead to a seemingly insurmountable margin.
Halfway through the quarter it seemed as if the team might have to pack it in and simply prepare for their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday. Phoenix pushed the lead to 27 at one point in the third, and were looking to run away with it. However, much like the Lakers, Phoenix has had a history of blowing leads this season. The Lakers began to chip away at the lead as the third quarter progressed, as they were desperately trying to make it a manageable deficit heading into the final period.
Led by Kobe Bryant, the Lakers went on a 15-4 run to end the third quarter and pull back within 15 points. After a relatively quiet first half, Pau Gasol put up some solid offensive numbers in the third to help the Lakers crawl back into the game, but it was the improved defense that really made an impact for L.A. The goal entering the third was to make thing manageable heading into the fourth, and they were able to do that, trailing 82-67 heading into the fourth.
While a 15-point deficit certainly isn’t easy to overcome in one quarter, it isn’t impossible either. Head coach Mike Brown wasn’t about to throw in the towel, as he sent Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol back onto the floor to start the fourth to see if the Lakers could get back into the game. And that’s what they were able to do. The Lakers continued their run from the end of the third in the first half of the fourth, but had trouble cutting too far into the lead for the first five minutes of the quarter.
However, after getting within 10 points it seemed as if that was as close as the Lakers were going to get. They fell back into similar habits that doomed them in the first half, as turnovers and missed shots once again crept back into the Lakers routine. The turnovers were especially troubling for Kobe Bryant, who turned it over for the tenth time with eight minutes left in the fourth. That gave Bryant a double-double that he wasn’t very proud of, and was one of the most telling statistics in the game.
Down the stretch the Lakers were unable to catch up with Phoenix, and a lot of that was because they had no other offensive options besides Bryant. The team was relying far too much on Bryant on offense, and many of their possessions resulted in Bryant taking the ball, isolating and trying to draw fouls. As good as Bryant is on the offensive end, without solid ball movement the team certainly struggled. While they were able to get back into the game they weren’t able to overcome Phoenix due to their lack of an offensive balance.
The Lakers are going to have trouble winning on nights when they have to rely on Bryant for all of their offense, and in the final quarter on Sunday that was what they were forced to do. The lack of a bench performance and the excessive turnovers doomed the Lakers early on, and put them in a hole they were never able to overcome. Despite a comeback attempt in the final half, the Lakers still fell to the Suns 102-90.
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