Wednesday, May 26, 2010
There's No Mirage in Desert: Phoenix Suns Eclipse Lakers-Celtics Dream
It happened unexpectedly, amid a boring and dense postseason. When it seemed the Los Angeles Lakers were too talented, and would eventually sweep the Phoenix Suns.
But the defending champs are once again perceived as a lingering riddle, with the annoying up and down meltdowns at critical situations.
Perhaps we spoke too quickly, without acknowledging the hottest team in the Western Conference. All of a sudden, the Suns are seemingly the team to beat. They are a franchise filled with depth, tremendous size, awareness, and poise.
At some moments, the Lakers were categorized as the elite franchise of the postseason, bound to win back-to-back titles.
Now, the defending champs are on the brink of elimination. The Suns appear hungrier, potent, and more determined than Los Angeles.
The Lakers were beat down by the Suns, dismantled by an aggressive and solid bench. Phoenix's entire second unit made the Lakers seem inferior.
When Team Hollywood is outplayed, out-hustled, and out-rebounded, the first notion that comes to mind is that they are doomed at repeating glory. It seems impossible to sustain back-to-back chatter when the Suns 2-3 zone defense disintegrates the Lakers soft, baffled offense.
Notice the Lakers haven’t executed or attacked the rim, despite possessing a seven-foot tandem in an uninspiring front court.
Meanwhile, as the Lakers have suddenly crumbled, the Suns are blazing. Phoenix realizes they can beat the Lakers. They are now two wins away from immortality, and an NBA Finals appearance.
The Suns are clear evidence that a series isn’t over until a team wins four games in the best-of-seven series. Phoenix could be on the verge of capping a bizarre upset in the NBA postseason.
They could break the hearts of Lakers fans dreaming of a Lakers-Celtics rematch.
Game five could dictate the Lakers fate, and add further burdens to a franchise with mystique, and supporters believing it’s the year to win another trophy.
Suddenly, the entire diverse city comes together in support of the Lakers. These fans are scared of a disastrous meltdown in game five. There is a notion that the Suns aren’t a mirage, but rather a legitimate unit in pursuit of capturing a championship, dethroning the defending champs in the process.
Quite unveiling is that the Suns might have a deeper and more fervid unit than the Lakers. Their reserve are more earnest and vigorous than Kobe’s absent-minded bench mob.
It’s stunning how the Suns outscored and intimidated the Lakers in bench points. They also dominated in rebounding, 51-35, and had a staggering 54-20 separation in bench points Tuesday night.
It was humiliating night for the Lakers, but a massive night for the Suns. Phoenix made it clear that if the Lakers refuse to raise the intensity, and match the assertive performance of Amar’e Stoudemire (who may decide to leave the desert and sign with another franchise when he becomes a free agent this summer), L.A. can be beaten.
The truth is that the leader and maestro of the Suns is Steve Nash, an explosive point guard who was dispirited of the disappointing changes within the organization last year. They relapsed and fell out of contention under embattled coach Terry Porter, before coach Alvin Gentry took over and had the interim tag removed.
Since then, Nash has led as the floor general, putting together opportunities for his teammates to score with his indescribable assists. He finds teammates inside the paint or beyond the perimeter.
There’s no arguing that he’s the essential piece to the immediate impact of the Suns progress against a team defending its title.
Standing at six feet, he’s the true point guard every team wishes to possess, an ageless floor general with John Stockton's genetics. Nash has blistering speed and vision in the transition game. He’s very athletic, and a perfectionist at all levels of the game. He makes everyone around him better.
Keep in mind he is a former soccer player.
It’s difficult to ignore the Suns because of Channing Frye's emergence. Frye nailed four three-pointers after missing his previous 18 shots. Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa's perimeter shooting has sparked Phoenix. Goran Dragic's streaky mid-range and outside pedigree has been displayed. Dragic has beaten Derek Fisher on the dribble, driving to the line or measuring for a jumper.
With much at stake, the Lakers are in trouble, and might endanger their season if they fail to rebound in game five.
Otherwise, the Lakers are doomed and will possibly see the last of Phil Jackson if he decides to retire or coach elsewhere next season.
Given that owner Jerry Buss has insisted he’ll reduce the coach's salary, Jackson may call it quits. But for now, they are amid a title run, aiming to repeat and celebrate.
None of that seems logical. The Suns are currently the better team, beating the Lakers in every category and publicly humiliating a highly regarded franchise.
If anyone is furious, it’s Kobe Bryant, arguably the greatest guard of our generation. He sarcastically responded to questions following a 115-106 loss to the Suns in game four.
By the time the game was complete, he had posted 38 points as his teammates abnormally tried too many three point attempts, which cost the Lakers a chance at widening the gap in this series. Now, they're challenged by the unstoppable and uncontrollable Suns.
During post game interviews, Bryant was asked how he felt. “Jovial,” he said. I’m sure we all interpreted that as sarcasm.
Next time critics may actually think before classifying the Suns as “girlie.”
Did we really underestimate the Suns? Absolutely!
They aren’t girls, but the hottest and fiercest team in the league that everyone had forgotten.