Cliffhanger: Sly Suns’ Dreaded comeback from 18 down makes it Rocky for Driven Lakers, but Phoenix can’t get Over the Top, as closing Specialist Kobe and L.A. Stallions Lock Up the Series-clinching Victory, 111-103
Sylvester Stallone may have played “Cobra” and “Rocky Bal-BOA,” but when it comes to sheer Star Power, don’t tread on Kobe — The Black Mamba is a Snake on a Plain above all the rest. Sly also starred in “Assassins,” which is exactly what the Suns’ Coach Alvin Gentry called Kobe after Game 6 in Phoenix.
The Suns had their backs to the wall, and all the momentum in the World, as a freak Flagrant Foul on Sasha Vujacic got the wild orange crowd going, and they spurred the Suns on a 16-4 run to start the 4th quarter, cutting the Lakers’ 17-point lead down to 5 with 6 minutes left.
The Phoenix bench was responsible for the spurt, with Goran Dragic scoring 8 in a row. Dragic was the recipient of Sasha’s Flagrant. The two of them are from Slovenia, and have an unpleasant history. And after Dragic scored over Sasha, he got in Sasha’s face, SAID SOMETHING, and bumped him in the back. Just as he did, Sasha threw his arms up, and accidentally caught Dragic in the jaw. Dragic flopped, and grabbed his face like he had been hit by Mike Tyson. The crowd suddenly came to life, and Phoenix continued their 16-4 run. Later, Sasha would explain that even though Dragic said something derogatory about his family while he was taunting him, all Sasha did was throw his arms up in the air. He didn’t mean to hit the guy. This explanation may or may not placate Kobe, who said that he was going to kill Sasha, even though they still won the game.
But first, Kobe had to kill Phoenix. After the Suns’ 16-4 run, Kobe took over, scoring 11 of the Lakers’ final 16 points. Kobe sank some improbable shots against tenacious, in-your-face Defense, causing Gentry to lament after the game that Kobe proved he is STILL the BEST Player on the Planet, BY FAR. Reggie Miller and his Announcing buddies were equally impressed, saying that the only Player that rivals Kobe is retired now, making Hanes Commercials. BAD Hanes commercials.
Kobe scored 37, tying Kareem at 2nd All-Time with 75 30+ point Playoff games, behind only Hanes Boy. Of Saturday night’s 37 points, none were more important than the 2 he earned with 35 seconds left. The Lakers were up by only 5, and the shot clock was running down, when a blanketed Kobe hit a fallaway 23-footer, right in front of Gentry. He then patted Gentry on the ass, and soared to the bench with his arms out like an airplane.
Over the last 11 Playoff games (ever since he got his knee drained, I believe), Kobe has scored at least 30 in every game but 1, and in that 1, he had a career playoff high 13 Assists. On Saturday night, he started out aggressively on the Offensive end, as he and Ron Artest supplied the early firepower. With Pau Gasol again being hamstrung by a smart Phoenix Defensive scheme that focuses on shutting down the Stars, it was up to Artest and Lamar Odom to contribute. And that’s exactly what they did, but in different ways. Artest had his best shooting game, going 10-for-16 for 25 Points. He also got 4 Boards, 2 Assists, and 3 Steals, with ZERO Turnovers in 41 Minutes. He even went FOUR-for-seven from 3-point land. Odom went a pathetic 3-for-12 from the floor, but he got 12 huge Rebounds, including 5 on the Offensive glass. He also tallied 3 Assists and a Steal. But with only 6 Points, he was not the highest-scoring Laker Reserve. That honor would go to Jordan Farmar. The former Star at UCLA hit two early Three’s and a huge Two in the 4th, for 8 Points. Farmar also added FIVE Assists and 2 Rebounds, with ZERO Turnovers in his 17 Minutes. His former competition for Back-up Point Guard Shannon Brown played only 4 Minutes, and did not take a shot. Is it possible that Shannon is not happy with Sasha getting Shannon’s Minutes?
Steve Nash had another highlight-reel night for Phoenix, and Channing Frye had another Double-Double, with 12 and 13, but the Lakers were able to frustrate Amar’e Stoudemire. Amar’e scored 27, but he was 7-for-20 from the floor, and got only TWO Defensive Rebounds all night. And if playing “inside-out” is the key to successful Offense, the most telling stat is this: Stoudemire got ZERO Assists, for the 4th game in a row. With all those good outside shooters, you would think that Amar’e would find some good targets.
Now the Lakers have new targets: The Boston Celtics. The Finals start on Thursday night. The Lakers split the Home & Home series with Boston this year, but Kobe missed the loss with an injury, and won the other one, with a last-second shot. More importantly, the Lakers are out to avenge the beating they took from Boston in the 2008 Finals. Derek Fisher, who like Gasol, didn’t have his best game on Saturday night, but, also like Gasol, hit a crucial shot down the stretch, to keep the Lakers safely ahead, remembers all too well the 2008 debacle, and is looking forward to exorcising those demons.
The Lakers have Home Court Advantage against the Celtics, which should make all the difference in the World. The Home Team will be favored in every game, so the Odds predict Lakers in 7. I don’t disagree. However, I think that each team will lose one at Home before Kobe closes out Boston in a Game 7 for the ages. With two solid Defenses, there is more potential for close, tense games. Also, two Veteran teams who don’t get rattled easily are more likely to keep the games close. Of course the last Finals game between these two teams WASN’T close… but that’s the memory that Fisher, Kobe and Lakers want to erase. L.A.’s big guys should be able to keep Kevin Garnett from looking like the Hall of Famer that he is, and Ron Artest and Kobe should make Paul Pierce and Ray Allen work their asses off for everything they get. So, if the Lakers, specifically Fisher and Farmar, can control Rajon Rondo — which is no easy task — then L.A. will be REPEAT World Champions.
Speaking of the Best in the World…