That’s One! Not a pretty One, but then when were the playoffs ever about pretty? The real question is what to take out of this unpretty One? And for me the answer is nothing I didn’t take into it.


Shawn Marion and the Suns pulled out a 96-87 win in Game 1 vs. the Lakers.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

Before the series started I thought the Suns had too much talent, speed and firepower for the Lakers to handle, and that it would be a short series. And I saw nothing Sunday to change my mind.

I know the Suns trailed most of the way, but even when they were down by 12 I never really felt they were in danger of losing the game or certainly the series — although I’ll admit there were stretches in the first half when I felt they might have to limp into the second round still suffering from all those self-inflicted bullet wounds in their feet.

Those first two periods had an upside down feel. So upside down that a fan who just returned from a vacation on Mars, and thus was not au courant, as they say, would have thought he was watching the scrappy, undermanned Suns making a game bid to upset the powerful Lakers instead of vice versa.

Still, even with the Suns shooting as poorly as they have all year, and Kobe going off for 28 first-half points, the Suns were only down nine at intermission. And even though that deficit would grow a tad before starting to shrink, I never had a sense of impending doom. I never sensed that in the stands either (although there is a tendency in these point-happy parts to think that any time the shots aren’t falling the sky must be).

Once you get past the almost shockingly bad shooting and early jitters, there were a lot of things that in some ways made this win almost as impressive as the blowouts sure to come in the series. Things like rebounding, defense, grit and the ability to make outside-in adjustments on the fly when their offense sputters, not to mention taking Kobe’s best shot.

Maybe the Lakers walked off the court thinking, “Hey, we can definitely play with these guys.” In fact, Coach Phil Jackson said as much in his post-game press conference. But that’s them.

If I’M the Lakers, I’m walking off the court saying to myself, “Man, if we couldn’t beat these dudes today we’ll NEVER beat them,” and I’m thinking the Lakers’ stock went DOWN, not up. But that’s me.

I’m further thinking, “We might be able to do SOMETHING with Nash and Amare and Marion. I mean we can at least catch them. But we can hardly SEE Leandro Barbosa, let alone catch the guy.”

Barbosa, easily the fastest thing on two sneakers, not only blew past the Lakers for lay-ups but hit a momentum-building 31-foot three as time ran out in the third period. And he scored 15 straight Suns points in a blistering 4:33 span at the end of the third period and beginning of the fourth en route to 26 points.

We’ve all been saying for the last two years he’s probably the fastest player in the NBA, but he’s a blur beyond fast. “He’s so much faster than anybody else it’s unbelievable,” said Coach Mike. Combine that sped with three-point range outside and an uncanny ability to bank in soft shots high off the glass from improbable angles while on the fly and you’ve got an unguardable package.

Oh, and did I mention he’s only now beginning to fully understand how to exploit those skills. Once he really gets the hang of it…

He was the best story Sunday, but certainly not the whole one. Steve Nash was his MVP self, both by the numbers and through his ability to subtly shift gears as the game situations change, and Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were dominating on the boards.

As for the Lakers, once Kobe’s shot went missing (he was 1 for his last 11) the Lakers went losing. But give them credit for some solid defense and all-out effort.

The bottom line: In addition to the talent gap between the teams there is also an energy gap, which is one reason the Lakers wore down in the fourth period, and will wear down even more in the next three games (four if necessary).

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