Commentary

Suns left scrambling after Game 1 loss

Updated: May 19, 2010, 2:45 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- One more game with only one open eye might not have been so uncomfortable for Steve Nash.

This way?

Nash saw too much of the Los Angeles Lakers. Way more than he ever imagined, wanted or secretly feared.

It was Pau Gasol's ample wingspan greeting him as he turned corners on pick-and-rolls. It was Lamar Odom's length obstructing the sight lines to Nash's usual secondary targets on the wing. It was arms everywhere, basically, to compromise Nash's restored vision and complicate his passing angles.

It was also way, way worse for the Suns everywhere else they looked, starting with a teamwide defensive surrender in a 128-107 pounding that will promptly hush all the recent chatter about how much tougher and stingier these Suns are.

Nash's muted 13 points and 13 assists in 28 minutes would have to be classified as a bright spot for the Suns, measured against everything else they were subjected to in this humbling evisceration. As Nash later confirmed about his health, after his first game since closing out his longtime tormentors from San Antonio with his right eye swollen shut: "That was the least of my concerns tonight."

The Suns indeed slinked away from this Game 1 of the Western Conference finals with as many worries as 48 minutes can generate. They flatly failed to make an allegedly vulnerable Kobe Bryant work harder for his 40 points, struggled to hold the hosts below 60 percent from the field because they couldn't contain L.A.'s penetration ... and couldn't even keep the game close enough to keep Bryant on the floor for more than three minutes of the fourth quarter.

Which is why the underdog Suns find themselves scrambling already to convince skeptics that they aren't just happy to get this far after finally getting past the Spurs.

Phoenix was abused inside by Odom and Gasol and numerous drives down the middle when Bryant wasn't throwing in perimeter daggers, outgunned at the 3-point line -- since the Lakers' length is also a factor out there, too -- and ultimately forced to concede that even its vaunted bench was seriously outplayed. The Lakers likewise did all that with Andrew Bynum reduced to virtual spectator status thanks to a knee problem that's clearly more serious than Kobe's, which was supposed to negate some of L.A.'s considerable size advantage.

It didn't.

Which is why the underdog Suns find themselves scrambling already to convince skeptics that they aren't merely happy to finally get past the Spurs and get this far.

"Just can't happen," Suns swingman Jared Dudley said of Bryant's eruption, which was fueled by a 21-point barrage in the third quarter and helped along by the three fouls racked up by Grant Hill in the first 5:15 of the second half, sending the Suns' main Bryant defender to the bench.

"He can have 40," Dudley continued, "but he's got to shoot 35 shots."

He didn't.

No. 24 got his 40 points on an economical 23 shot attempts. Then Bryant -- with a shiny yellow brace covering that recently drained right knee -- happily watched the final 8:53 from the bench as Odom (19 points and 19 rebounds), Gasol (21 points) and Shannon Brown (nine points in the fourth quarter) finished Phoenix off. That's the same Odom who always loves seeing the smaller Suns, especially now after averaging just 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in the first two rounds of the postseason.

No wonder that Kobe, after so many Lakers quickly found a groove in the wake of a weeklong break since the end of the second round, dared the Suns to double-team him more frequently when the series resumes Wednesday night, saying: "[If] they send two guys at me, then I've done my job."

Nash and Suns coach Alvin Gentry, by contrast, are looking at quite a psych job before Game 2. It's not just making sure the Suns ignore the incessant talk over the next 36 hours about the 46-0 record Phil Jackson-coached teams sport in the playoffs when they win Game 1. It's more about fighting the urge to lose faith after such a one-sided series opener, against a team that, unlike the Spurs, is blessed with highly mobile big men.

Gentry repeatedly insisted he could live with Bryant's 40 because of how much time Kobe spent outside, but soaking in the enormity of the Lakers' size edge -- plus the fact that it's still there even though Bynum hardly played and despite Phoenix's killer second half of the season -- could easily prompt the Suns to start looking at the unforeseen sweep of San Antonio as their championship.

After scoring the evening's first seven points, Phoenix could only claim two successes: Robin Lopez's more-than-passable return (14 points and six boards in 24 minutes in his first game since March 26) and the fact that Nash (despite Jackson's pre-series attempts to work the refs) wasn't called for any carrying violations.

Unless, of course, Gentry's Game 1 game plan was getting Kobe and Co. overconfident.

"I think our room for error is small," Nash said. "They're a lot bigger than we are. They had a lot of points in the paint [56 to Phoenix's 36]."

Nash then helpfully noted: "They're probably going to continue to be taller than us as the series goes on."

Said Gentry: "[Allowing] 128 points, we can't defend [that]."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics