Here's a nice little video analysis of the many points Kobe Bryant scored in the third quarter. The give-and-go with Pau Gasol was the highlight, but do not ignore the artful avoidance of the charge as he scoots around the defender at the rim, finishing with the left hand. A lot of basketball is seen as being about power, but in finishing, there's a lot of value in having a light touch. It's almost like ballet.
Other assorted observations from Game 1 of the Western Conference finals:
Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest are the alpha dogs around the rim. There is a lot more pushing and shoving now than in the regular season, and these are the players who know what they're doing. That's a problem for Phoenix.
Robin Lopez did some nice things -- he made all but one of his seven shots -- but presumably he'll get better as he gets some more game time. He looked a little surprised by a lot of what was happening -- passes, switches and the like startled him a couple of times, and he could have been a lot more explosive around the rim had he not been in such a hurry. But that's to be expected for a first game back.
Alvin Gentry left Jared Dudley in the game with two early fouls. A lot of coaches would not have done that -- he's too important! -- but Gentry was justified: Dudley played the minutes Gentry wanted him to play, and finished with four fouls.
I've always been a fan of picking one player to watch. In this series, try that with Grant Hill. As he's both heavily involved in the offense and often guarding Bryant, watching him is not a bad way to follow the whole game. Try it. You'll be amazed at what he does at 37. The Lakers' key run began when Hill sat with four fouls in the middle of the third quarter, and Gentry suddenly became conservative. On the night, the Lakers were only two points better than the Suns when Hill was in the game. But by the time Hill had been on the bench for a few minutes, the game was a blowout, and Gentry decided to rest his veterans to fight another day.
Phil Jackson apparently liked Artest's matchup and asked him to be a scorer early. That's scary, isn't it? Artest's a constant threat to take bad shots in bunches. He finished having made six of his 14 shots, which didn't matter a bit in the blowout.
There are some players around the NBA who look to me like they were born to play in Phoenix's system, where Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire can use the pick-and-roll to demand help and get open looks for teammates. You want players who can catch and score no matter where they are on the court, but especially at the 3-point line. Height helps, as Channing Frye has been demonstrating all year, and bonus points for being able to play defense. Lamar Odom, in this analysis, would be a really effective Sun.
The Suns did an interesting thing for a while, using Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic together. They are both athletic and explosive in going to the rim on the dribble, and it is a real challenge for the Lakers to come up with the defenders to contain them. They played this way for the first half of the second quarter, and over those five-plus minutes, the Suns were one point better than the Lakers. It's not a magic formula (those two also played together in the early fourth quarter with Stoudemire and some bench players, when a lineup with Bryant, Odom and Gasol destroyed them) but it's certainly worth noting.
For all that talk about Bryant's knee, he certainly seemed to be exploding to the rim nicely in Game 1.