No impostors in this one. For one of the few times in the last two postseason match-ups between the teams, the real Suns and the real Lakers showed up.
Amaré Stoudemire’s defense sparked the Suns’ open-court game.
Okay, maybe the surreal Suns. I’ve seen them play this well in spurts during the Nash Era, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them sustain such excellence at both ends of the court for such a prolonged period. Four periods, actually.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many Suns at the top of their game at both ends of the court at the same time either.
Steve Nash had only two fewer assists in 25 minutes than the entire Lakers team had in 48, Leandro Barbosa had another 26-point microburst, Shawn Marion had another double double, and Amare – well, Amare not only scored 20 points but also was the backbone of a superb defense that helped turn this into an open-court game.
“Amare’s not known as a great one-on-one defender,” said Kobe Bryant in the post-game press conference, “but he’s an excellent help defender.”
Amare’s spectacular blocks (four in all) and hovering presence not only short circuited the only strength the Lakers have other than Kobe (i.e. — the power game), but keyed a running game that netted 39 fast-break points.
Barbosa continues to be a revelation. Talk about the rich getting richer. The Suns already had a roster that included a two-time MVP plus two other All Stars, and now Barbosa is emerging as a full-fledged star in his own right.
Once known mostly as The Fastest Sun, he has morphed into The Unstoppable Sun, a point Lakers coach Phil Jackson underscored when he called him “the difference in the series to this point.”
In the process of running circles (and even a few squares and rectangles) around the befuddled Lakers, Barbosa also made the voters who made him the runaway choice for Sixth Man of the Year look good.
This 26-point performance was even more impressive than the one in Game 1 of the series because of the potential additional pressure put on him by the pre-game ceremonies in which he received the award and highlights of his season were played on the arena screens, while the Lakers stood around watching.
Sometimes in those circumstances the honoree experiences a letdown, and when Barbosa missed his first three shots it appeared as though this might be one of those times. But not to worry. He hit seven of his next eight, and was the driving force behind a 37-22 second period that blew the game wide open.
And while not to put to fine a point on it, on several occasions he seemed to be wearing sneakers while all the Lakers were wearing ski boots (and on a couple of occasions, skis).
So far in this series I’ve been mildly surprised twice. Game 1 was a little harder to win than I expected, and Game 2 was a little easier. But ONLY a little.
The Larkers are trying to shrug this off as something of an aberration and shrugging that a 30-point loss in the playoffs is no more significant than a one-point loss, and in fact, actually is less painful.
Ordinarily I might agree with them.
In fact, the last time I remember the Lakers falling more than 30 points behind in a playoff game was in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals in Boston. I was in the Gah-den that night and saw the Lakers lose to the Celtics, 148-114. But they went on to square the series in Game 2 and eventually close out the Celts in Game 6.
But there was no noticeable talent gap between those Lakers and those Celtics, whereas there is a huge one between these Lakers and these Suns. I’ll grant you it’s not 28 points wide, but it’s in the 15-20 range
Which basically means that in order to salvage even one game in this series the Lakers will have to somehow let all the air out of the ball, put some glue on the soles of Barbosa’s sneakers, and hope an exhausted Kobe (hey, if you’d been carrying a whole NBA team on your back for the last six months you’d be tired too) locates his suddenly gone-missing touch.
The only thing that worries me is that the Suns might have blown their cover. They came into the series as a team allegedly bogged down with chemistry and focus problems, and did nothing to dispel that misread in Game 1.
But Game 2, alas, unmasked them as the explosive force they really are, and in fact have been all along.