Fast Breaks: Lakers-Suns, Game 3
The Suns' zone defense failed miserably in the practices leading up to Game 3
The Lakers settled for too many outside shots against the Phoenix zone
Phoenix's perimeter reserves have been invisible -- something that must change
|(1) Lakers vs. (3) Suns|
|Lakers lead series, 2-1|
|Game 4: @PHX Tues., May 25, 9 p.m., TNT|
|Game 5: @LAL Thur., May 27, 9 p.m., TNT|
|Game 6: @PHX Sat., May 29, 8:30 p.m.*, TNT|
|Game 7: @LAL Mon., May 31, 9 p.m.*, TNT|
PHOENIX -- Something happened on the way to a Celtics-Lakers showdown in the NBA Finals -- the Phoenix Suns are trying to derail it. Backed by 18,422 orange-clad fans, the Suns climbed back into the Western Conference finals, cutting down the Lakers 118-109 to slice L.A.'s series lead to 2-1.
1. Zone, anyone? When the NBA introduced zone defense in 2001, the hope was it would rid the game of the rampant one-on-one and two-on-two basketball that had stagnated play. In Game 3, the Suns used it to fluster the Lakers. After watching L.A. average 126 points and connect on 58 percent from the field in Games 1 and 2, Phoenix shifted to a zone that kept L.A. below 50 percent (48.3) for the first time this series.
"We did a really good job in the rotations in the zone," said Alvin Gentry. "They weren't scoring in the paint. We did have some lapses there against the zone where Pau [Gasol] got inside, but for the most part, I thought most of the shots were coming from the outside."
Said Gasol: "It took us a long time to figure out. We made bad passes. We weren't sharp with our execution."
Ironically, the Suns' success with the zone came days after the team fumbled with the defense in practice.
"We tried it a few times and, to be honest, in practice the other day it was the worst that it has ever been," said Gentry. "It really was. I got really upset because I didn't think it was very good at all. Then we gave it a try and came up with some stops. It's easier trying to guard those guys on the inside and it's also easier than trying to guard Kobe [Bryant]."
2. The Suns' new favorite son It's a virtual certainty many reporters have the Free agency distracts Stoudemire story stored on their hard drives, or at the very least, laid out in their minds. But Amar'e Stoudemire -- who answered questions (again) this weekend about his future free agent status -- atoned for a pair of subpar outings in Los Angeles with a monster 42-point, 11-rebound performance.
"I saw this coming," said Bryant.
"Coach told me before the game he was going to come to me," said Stoudemire. "Come to me a lot. And I was ready."
Stoudemire was a force in the paint, helping foul out Lamar Odom and limiting Andrew Bynum to four fouls in just seven minutes. Overall, Stoudemire went to the line 18 times, two fewer than the entire Lakers team.
3. Bye Bye, Bynum? Clearly, Bynum's troublesome right knee is bothering him, so much so that Phil Jackson said he'd consider holding Bynum out of a game, should the injury not improve.
"I'll talk to him, see what his suggestion is about it and how he feels about it," said Jackson. "I think he was ineffective out there. There were some things that got by him. Defensively, I thought he was a little bit late."
Said Bryant, "This is a tough series for him to play in because of how much they run. He's capable of running and keeping up with these guys when he's healthy."
If Bynum can't go in Game 4, there is a domino effect. Odom would step into the starting lineup, further weakening a bench that contributed just 18 points on 7-of-24 shooting.
4. Threes? Who needs threes? Scribbled on a whiteboard in the Phoenix locker room before the game was a reminder that the Suns were the league's best shooting team in the regular season. They didn't exactly show it Sunday, making 25 percent (5-20) of their three-point attempts. But thanks to a relentless attack on the paint, Phoenix finished the game shooting 46.3 percent overall.
"For some reason, they do a great job of running us off our threes and we just can't seem to make them," said Gentry. "We're just a much better shooting team than that."
5. Which Lopez was that? Suns center Robin Lopez looked a lot like his rising star brother, Brook, chipping in 20 points on 8-10 shooting.
"We didn't think he would be that advanced offensively for us," said Gentry. "He's been great at the screen-and-rolls and being able to catch and finish. He's also been really good at catching and making the little 15-foot shot, which really has been a surprise."
With Channing Frye continuing to struggle -- Frye missed all seven of his shots and is 1-for--20 from the floor in this series -- Lopez will be asked to play big minutes the rest of the way.
"We have to make sure we contain him," said Gasol. "We've got to make him get tougher shots."
6. Can't fault Kobe If the Lakers had won, Bryant might have counted Game 3 as one of the finest of his career: 36 points (13-24 shooting), 11 assists, nine rebounds. But Bryant didn't get much help, particularly from Odom (10 points, 4-14 shooting) and Ron Artest (12 points, 4-13).
"[Odom] had a game he doesn't want to remember," said Jackson. "He wants to go home and forget about this one."
Bryant's ability to take over games is legendary, but he can't win this series on his own. L.A. was whistled for 28 fouls, committed 17 turnovers and sent the Suns to the line 42 times.
"Some of [the turnovers] were bobbled balls and dribbling with your toe on the line," said Bryant. "Silly stuff. And other ones came from their defense in the zone, and not reading lanes correctly."
And the fouls?
"Stop hacking," said Bryant. "Simple as that."
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