The Phoenix Suns have made a habit out of defying everyone's expectations this season. To wit: When sports pundits predicted the aging team would barely contend amid an ultra-competitive Western Conference, Steve Nash and company made 'em eat crow by finishing as the fourth seed and dispatching their first two playoff opponents easily.
So it was disheartening last night when Phoenix did exactly what everyone outside the Valley was predicting they'd do and lose the first game of the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And it wasn't so much a loss as it was a massacre, as Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom pimp-slapped the Suns to secure the 128-107 victory at Staples Center.
There wasn't much of a bright side to the loss, other than it was only the first game of a best-of-seven series. But Planet Orange will definitely need to get their shit together to counteract or contain the dominant play of Byrant and the rest
Kobe was on fire for most of the night, going 13-for-23 to total a whopping 40 points and quashing Suns fans hope that his knee problems would hobble his basketball proficiency. (In fact, a good chunk of El Lay's lineup was in the zone scoring-wise, with players such as Odom, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest in double figures.)
Nash gave the Black Mamba his due after the game, telling the press corps that "you gotta tip your hat to the type of player [he is] and the performance he put on out there tonight."
If only the Suns could have been just as good.
That isn't to say they were horrible, at least offensively. The Suns struck first in the game, running out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter before the Lakers started to put on the smackdown and took the lead back for the rest of the game. Phoenix nailed 49.4 percent of their field goals, and six players of their own were in double figures, with Amar'e Stoudemire leading the way with 23 points.
Their three-point efforts, however, were deplorable. Whereas the Lakers seemd to be hitting all their shots, the Suns seemed to be missing them. As a unit, Phoenix only completed 22.7 percent of their treys thanks, in part, to the impotency of Channing Frye, who went one-for-seven from long range.
The defense was equally a nightmare. Both Odom and Andrew Bynum penetrated the perimeter and drove in the paint for buckets, leaving Amar'e and Grant Hill choking on their sneaker dust. The Purple and Orange Gang also sucked in transition, getting stopped by the Lakers at every attempt. El Lay also snuffed out the Suns run-and-gun style with aplomb.
The Suns also couldn't seem to find a way to stop either Kobe or any of the Lakers' big men. Robin Lopez made his long-awaited return after sitting out the past two months 'cause of back problems, and while the beloved starting center had 14 points, six rebounds, and banged around a bit with the big bous, he only played 28 minutes.
The game became such a lopsided blowout at times (where the Lakers were leading by as much as 28 points) that even L.A. coach Phil Jackson was taken by surprise, hence his comments afterward that he expected things to be much closer.
So did we, Phil.
Nash probably summed up the debacle the best in post-game interviews:
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"I think our room for error is small. They're a lot bigger than we are, they had a lot of points in the paint, they're probably going to continue to [play bigger] than us as the series goes on," Nash told reporters. "We've got to play really, really solid defensively, try to make everything as tough as possible....we played hard, we didn't make enough shots, and we had a few too many breakdowns to counteract their size."
If this season has taught us anything, its that Phoenix knows how to rebound from a loss. Game two is tomorrow night, and we're hoping against hope that the Suns squad that hits the floor at Staples will be more fierce and more efficient, landing plenty of three-pointers and running circles around L.A.'s giants. Otherwise, 2009-2010 will probably go down as yet another season of broken dreams with a dash of coulda, woulda, and shoulda.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.suns.com.