Western Conference Finals

The Los Angeles Lakers are advancing to the NBA Finals after dispatching the Pheonix Suns in 6 hard fought games in the Western Conference Finals.  Although the Lakers entered the series as heavy favorites, the Pheonix Suns wouldn’t quit and played with all their heart right up to the end.  With buzzer beaters, high scoring games and Kobe’s typical brilliance, this turned out to be the most exciting series of the Playoffs by far.  Continue reading to take a look back at the series and see what went right and wrong for both teams.

The Playoffs are where the stars shine.  They thrive under pressure.  They raise their games to another level.  They will their teams to victory.  Both of these teams have dynamic duos who are critical to their teams success.  Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol versus Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudamire.  Before the series started, I felt that the duo which performed at a higher level would lead their teams to a series victory.

Kobe Bryant 33.6 ppg 7.1 rpg 8.3 apg
Pau Gasol 19.6 ppg 7.1 rpg 3.6 apg
Combined 54.2 ppg 14.2 rpg 11.9 apg
Steve Nash 17.6 ppg 11.8 apg 3.5 rpg
Amar’e Stoudamire 25 ppg 0.5 apg 6 rpg
Combined 42.6 ppg 12.3 apg 9.5 rpg

Even though Pau played below his usual standards, the all around dominance of Kobe helped the Lakers duo come out on top.  With the Lakers stars outscoring the Suns stars by 10 points per game over the series, it put a lot of pressure on the Suns role players and bench to outplay their Lakers counterparts.

The other starters from both teams were close to a standstill throughout the series, playing their roles to perfection and complementing their stars.  Andrew Bynum and Robin Lopez both clogged the lane, crashed the boards and finished inside.  Grant Hill and Ron Artest played solid defense and knocked down their shots when needed.  Derek Fisher and Jason Richardson were deadly from behind the three point arc and kept the defense honest by spreading the floor.  The difference between the role players was in offensive rebounding, shooting percentage and ball control.

Offensive Rebounds – The Lakers shot over 50% for the series, which is unusually high for the Playoffs, but where they really hurt the Suns was on the offensive glass.  Too often the Suns stood around waiting for the ball to bounce in to their arms, while every member of the Lakers would hustle and fight for position and the rebound.  I haven’t seen so many balls tipped back to teammates since Dennis Rodman was in a Bulls uniform.  Matched up against a taller, longer team like the Lakers, the Suns needed to control the boards as much as possible but instead they seemed to forget how to box out and repeatedly watched the Lakers snatch offensive rebounds from their grasp.  If an opponent is shooting over 50% AND you give up a high volume of offensive rebounds, you better score a lot of points and shoot a high percentage to even have a chance to win.

Shot Percentage – Henry Abbott covers this well in one of his recent posts.  Apart from Jason Richardson, the Suns all shot well below their season averages.  For a team which relies so much on outside shooting, this was a critical factor in why they lost.  during the Playoffs, Grant Hill shot 14% from three point land, down from his 44% of the regular season.   Channing Frye shot 34%, down from his 44%.  As a team, the Suns shot .386, down from their regular season average of .412.  If they had maintained their long range clip from the regular season, it would have equated to an additional 27 points for the series.  Although this probably would not have changed the outcome of the series, with the Suns missing so many outside shots it allowed the Lakers to stay at home in the paint, not allowing the Suns to get easy layups or buckets inside.  On the other side of the coin, the Lakers shot well above their season average and displayed one of the best shooting performances I’ve witnessed when they shot almost 60% from the field and 56% from three in game 2.

Ball Control – With the Lakers shooting such a high percentage and dominating the offensive glass, for the Suns to have a chance in this series they needed to make the most of every possession and play an efficient brand of ball.  Apart from one game, in which Pheonix was victorious, the Suns committed more turnovers per game which the Lakers consistently capitalized on.  When the Suns turned the ball over, it gave the Lakers a chance to get out and run the floor and with players great in the open like Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and even Pau Gasol, the Lakers consistently turned these breaks in to easy buckets.

The Suns play a beautiful style of ball with good spacing, lots of pick and rolls and unselfish ball movement.  They weren’t expected to make it this far in the Playoffs and should hold their heads high.  Unfortunately for them, it’s hard to win a series when you are shooting a low percentage, turning the rock over and getting beaten on the boards, particularly when playing against a team as talented as the defending champion Lakers.

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