The Los Angeles Lakers over powered the Phoenix Suns in Game 1, making for an easy 105-77 win. If Scott Skiles and the Suns want to stay in this series, they needed a new gameplan. For the Lakers, just keep doing what you’re doing. Feed Shaquille O’Neal the ball on-the-block, and have Kobe Bryant and the rest of the team shoot outside, or slash.
The Lakers haven’t won the first two games of a Western Conference Semifinal since 1989. Jason Kidd said that his ankle was feeling much better and didn’t practice on it since the last game. Double teaming O’Neal starts upon his first touch leaving the Glen Rice and Ron Harper open on back-to-back shots. The Lakers are still on fire as a carry-over scoring on 6 of their first seven possessions. The Suns are actually running a 2-2-1 trap defense as the Lakers bring the ball up court- already a different approach than the first game.
Luc Longley being able to stretch the floor could prove to be a difficult match for the Lakers as they need O’Neal to collect defensive rebounds. Longley and Shawn Marion pick up two fouls in a row as they try to get O’Neal moved from the block; you don’t move him, he moves when he wants. As good as the Lakers played, the Suns played just a bit better in the first period.
Shaq shows why he’s the MVP in 2000
As Hubie Brown noted, Bryant was on the bench when the Suns made their run- he’s back in the game. As the Lakers go on a 7-0 run, Bryant hits a two-handed dunk on a fast break to get the crowd completely back into this game. Phil Jackson brought O’Neal out for a quick rest and the Suns get two consecutive offensive rebounds. Bryant picks up his third foul, and O’Neal’s rest is up. You can already tell that this is going to game that the Lakers are going to play through O’Neal. Anfernee Hardaway, Cliff Robinson and Rodney Rogers combined to shoot 0-8 for the Suns. On the Lakers side, they scored 26 points in the second quarter, O’Neal had 13 of them. O’Neal had 21 points and nine rebounds in the first half. Bryant only saw 5:23 of playing time in this quarter as he picked up his third foul early.
Third quarter woes continue for the Suns
Hardaway starts the quarter hitting a layup 18 seconds in, and then it was a glimpse of the previous game as they go on a 3:40 scoreless drought. The Suns are running the trap defensive press on the Lakers again, but they blow it right apart. Hardaway blocks an O’Neal shot that turned out to be irrelevant as it finds the bottom of the basket anyway. If there was a quote to sum up this game, it would have been that. The crowd inside the Staples Center is buzzing, the Lakers are playing well, but they need just a little something more. Bryant goes up for what would have been a terrific alley-oops but Hardway held him sending Bryant to the free throw line. Sixth-man of the year, Rogers played 8:17 in this third quarter and he just couldn’t get it going shooting just 1-6 and only pulling down two rebounds. Combing his shooting with Longley and Marion, the Suns got just two points ouf of nine shots. The Lakers scored 24 points in this, and their “big three” contributed 22 of those.
The Suns are rising
To start the fourth quarter the Suns go on a 8-2 run following two Horry turnovers and a Bryant miss. The Suns are playing very fast, and capitalizing on mistakes by the Lakers, but they are still allowing O’Neal wide open dunks underneath as the Staples Center tries to get their team to slow down this run. It was offensive rebounding that made a difference, as the Lakers struggled to score, they only grabbed two offensive rebounds, while the Suns had eight. The Lakers lead is cut down to one point with under three minutes. “Hack-a-Shaq” is starting and it worked as O’Neal missed both free throws.
Bryant is playing fantastic defense on Kidd, but not too aggressive as he’s got four personal fouls. Harper misses the one-of-two free throws and puts the Lakers back up by two. Robinson hits both free throws after a Glen Rice foul and the game is tied up with 1:05 remaining. Kidd gets a steal on Bryant, and after a Rogers miss, the Suns get another offensive rebound- Suns lead 96-94.
Bryant draws a foul on Hardaway and misses his second from the line, 96-95 Suns. With 22 seconds remaining O’Neal blocks a Hardaway layup attempt and gives the Lakers the ball for a final shot. :02.6 seconds remaining and Bryant hits a jumper! 97-96 Lakers. As time expires, Hardaway cannot hit the shot, and the Lakers survive.