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NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 4: Suns in a different kind of zone but it still means a win

May 26, 2010, 1:10 AM EST

Frye_Bench.jpgPhoenix was in the zone again.

Not the defense… well, they were in that too and it had an impact, but this time it was an offensive zone. There were stretches of Game 4 where it seemed no Sun could miss. The Lakers couldn’t figure them out.

But that offensive zone was really a string of little things that started with the defense, led to open threes for the Suns bench that got hot, and ended with a 115-106 Suns win that has even this series 2-2.

The series everybody had written off as over just a few days ago is now headed to a clash-of-styles Game 5 Thursday in Los Angeles that likely will decide the series.

Phoenix has figured out the little things. The question that remains is can they do this on the road, where their role players struggled and the calls are often not as friendly? You can see in the Suns eyes they think they can.

That confidence starts with the zone defense. The Lakers played better against it, to the tune of 105 points and 49 percent shooting. The Lakers scored, and at times they did what they wanted to do by getting the ball into the teeth of the Suns zone with passes to Pau Gasol in the high post, or off penetration.

But then they’d stop doing it for stretches. They’d take the path of least resistance and just go back to taking threes — they took 28 in this game after taking 32 last game. The Lakers are not a good three point shooting team, and they hit just 32 percent of those threes in Game 4.

That means a lot of long rebounds to fuel the Suns offense. And for the Suns bench, it was like rocket fuel. The Suns bench had 54 points (to the Lakers 20) on 62.5 percent shooting. The Suns took those rebounds and were off to the races — the Suns had 40 second quarter points largely fueled by those missed shots becoming Suns shots before the Lakers could get back and set their defense. They could not miss — even Channing Frye, who was 0-16 before this game, finished 4 of 8 from
three. The same thing happened in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers had tied the game but the Suns pulled away on three consecutive threes, two of them off missed Lakers shots.

“What was disappointing for me is the fact we took five threes in that sequence of action where they made up the ground when we took the lead in the fourth quarter,” Phil Jackson said in a televised interview on NBA TV after the game.

The chance to get out and run made the Suns the aggressors. Again. Phoenix made 22 free throws on 32 attempts, the Lakers were 7 of 13. The reason was not the referees, it was that the Lakers were settling for jumpers while the Suns were attacking. Further evidence of that, the Suns had 18 offensive rebounds.

Phoenix also exploited Andrew Bynum, who is clearly hurting. The Suns had Bynum’s man — Robin Lopez or Amare Stoudemire — come out and set the high screen for Steve Nash because Bynum was not mobile enough to slow Nash and recover to his man rolling toward the basket. Stoudemire finished with 21 points.

Kobe tried to take control himself, and he put on an impressive display of shooting on his way to 38 points (he hit 15 of 22 shots and was 6 of 9 from three). But late in the game the Suns started sending kamikaze double teams at him to get the ball out of his hands (same with Gasol) — let anyone else try to beat them, but not Kobe. It worked. The Lakers took threes and missed them.

Jackson said after the game he was fine with the Lakers offense, it was the defense that bothered him. But the two were interrelated — the Suns aggressiveness in their zone forced the Lakers into bad shot selections that fueled the Suns offense the Lakers couldn’t stop. It was more mental than physical, Kobe said.

“I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone, I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively,” Bryant said in his televised interview. “Our focus was on the other end of the floor, which doesn’t win championships.”

If the Lakers are going to win a championship — or even compete for one in the Finals — they need to get that defensive attention back.

The Suns, on the other hand, need to keep riding the zone and the three point shooting. Their offense is a beautiful and powerful thing when unleashed. And right now, that storm is blowing the Lakers out of the way, much like the Lakers did to them in the first two games.

Game five Thursday night is going to be a fascinating clash of styles.

  1. Craig W. - May 26, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    There were two key things I noticed about this game.
    1) The Laker bigs were retreating on shots, not moving to the basket to contest misses — therefore they ceded rebounds to the Suns without effort. This is where Andrew and Lamar usually move down low and grab a lot of balls – not this game.
    2) When they drive the lane the Lakers tend to toss up shots instead of throwing them down – Lamar, I am especially looking at you over your entire career. This is just not going to get it done with playoff referee standards. You will not get calls unless you are actually trying to put the ball in the basket when you are hit.
    No matter how good Kobe is, he still has that broken finger and this impacts his ball handling, most notably when he is driving toward the basket in traffic. This means the most effective ball handler is somewhat limited in an area where the Lakers have no other players who can effectively attack the seams of the zone. The Suns have figured this out and, I believe, this is a major reason their zone is so successful against the Lakers. Don’t give me Lamar; he is only effective dribbling when he can see a direct path to the basket – or near the basket – otherwise he draws offensive fouls.

  2. Hank - May 26, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    Where are he haters now. The Black Mamba is defanged and he still sucks. Suns in six.

  3. Frank - May 26, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Exactly Hank, where are all the loudmouth trash talkers who where here after games 1 and 2?

  4. SUNSfan - May 26, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    The laker fans are all sh*ting in their ceral this morning.

  5. suns ball - May 26, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    The Sun may set, But It Always Rises Again….. THe SUNS are taken out the Trash!!!!

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  7. john - May 26, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    Same this as OKC series. Please talk macho after you win one in LA. if Suns had to shoot a retarted amount of 3′s to just win the game. What do you think is gonna happen in LA. SUNS will get smacked game 5. Home court will be difference.

  8. SUNSfan - May 26, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Nothing has changed SUNS in 6!

  9. SUNSfan - May 26, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    John, Do you speak English?

  10. Mick the Ripper - May 26, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    Now these Lakers fans know why I’ve been preaching on here about LA’s mediocre shooting. Let Kobe get his buckets and contest everyone elses shots, that’s what we did. For zone to be broken down, LA needs a healthy Bynum (so much for that). Suns depth will win this series and the Lakers are playing to small with Lamar at the 4 to do anything. Suns is 6!!! To you LA fans that were so critical on the Suns at the start of the series, remember PHX aint EASY!! Bynum is breaking down, LA is done for. Happy Suns day Steve!

  11. JD - May 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Like I predicted on a previous post or two(before game 3 even started, then someone named ‘Lakersfan’ then proceeded to ask me what planet I was from), the Lakers hot shooting in Games 1 and 2 masked their defensive deficiencies against Phoenix (e.g. not following through in breaking through the screens, not staying in front of their man, etc.)
    I am not one bit surprised this series is tied at 2-2 since it was evident that the Lakers could not keep shooting 57% on the road as well. I suspect the Suns will employ a similar strategy in Game 5, with a bit of a wrinkle to keep the Lakers off their heels for a bit.
    IF the Suns can find a way to win in Game 5, the Suns win in 6. IF NOT, then anyone can claim the victory in Game 7.

  12. Omnius - May 26, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Looks like a repeat of the Thunder series for the Lakers, they got complacent after going up 2-0 on the road. Time for the Lakers to go home for game 5 and get their act together again like they did against the Thunder. With more effort and smarter play, like getting a lot more points in the paint, the Lakers will be fine and win in 6 games like they did with the Thunder.

  13. Mick the Ripper - May 26, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    Only difference is Suns are a more mature team. Yes the Thunder have talent but they have no where near the experience of the Suns players. Thunder also don’t have a true Center, Kristic can not bang inside with LA’s bigs. Also Phx’s bench is far superior to OKC.

  14. Anonymous - May 26, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    i find it interesting that all these games were blowouts, and then they get the numbers that this is one of the most boring not watched playoffs in a long time, and then all of a sudden after that report came out all of a sudden the teams who were getting whooped all of a sudden are doing the whooping.. i smell sterns hand at work here. will be great if the suns win, just to spite the lakers for tanking games on purpose, as for the celtics, the dirtiest team to ever play the game, i hope they just lose period :)

  15. john - May 26, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Sorry about that guys. Here it is in plain English. SUNS are not going to win in LA. All year long its been about the same score when phoenix plays in LA. LA scores in the 120′s and phoenix 106-112 range. Game 1,2 5, probably 7 will be same thing 120-110 LA. Lakers played bad and still put up 106 points with a shot to win. Suns played like they could not miss even blind folded and scored 115. LA will score over 120 in game 5 believe that. So suns better be ready to put up ridiculous numbers. Lakers defense will focus on 3 point line so Suns interior better be ready to go nuts.

  16. Frankensun - May 26, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    The Suns are a very underrated team. None of the major broadcasters give them much attention, which is fine. Alvin Gentry has done an incredible job of building up his team, this entire season. He has allowed his players to grow and make mistakes, and now in the playoffs he has a squad that goes 10 deep. All good players, all experienced, all confident. Sure Amare can’t get 41 again, sure Lopez won’t get 20 again, sure the bench won’t get 50+ again, next time it will be someone else who steps up. Ever play whack-a-mole? I’m not saying the Suns will win, I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to play them.

  17. Frankensun - May 26, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    The Suns are a very underrated team. None of the major broadcasters give them much attention, which is fine. Alvin Gentry has done an incredible job of building up his team, this entire season. He has allowed his players to grow and make mistakes, and now in the playoffs he has a squad that goes 10 deep. All good players, all experienced, all confident. Sure Amare can’t get 41 again, sure Lopez won’t get 20 again, sure the bench won’t get 50+ again, next time it will be someone else who steps up. Ever play whack-a-mole? I’m not saying the Suns will win, I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to play them.

  18. Lakers4Lyfe - May 26, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    Nothing has changed, Lakers in 5 or 6 is what we’ve always said. No real Lakers fan expected a sweep. See, we know Hollywood and we know the Lakers like a little drama. When the Lakers win game 5 — by a large margin — the Suns fans will come here and cry about refs, how they didn’t get obvious foul calls, how the NBA is rigged, etc., etc. It’s just more fun ripping out a teams guts at the end of a series. This is the Lakers history … Those of us who are true Lakers fans know that. I’m still saying, and have said from the beginning, this series will not go 7 games. It’s Laker justice to rip a teams heart out on the home court of an opposing team deep in a series. Expect a 15+ point blowout game 5 in LA, then all you illegal aliens in Phoenix can go back across the border to Mexico after you lose in 6 at home. The Suns, with the worst road record in the NBA playoffs will choke, then lose at home in 6. It’s happened so many times, Lakers fans expect this … a little drama. If by some off chance this does go 7 games, well, just rewind history for a harbinger of how this will end.

  19. JD - May 26, 2010 at 2:40 PM

    *Yawn* Illegals? Really, this is the best you can do? What exactly is the point of the non-basketball related content of your post?
    While it is possible that the Lakers can come up with a much better defensive effort in Game 5 than in Games 1-4, but they have not shown it this far into the series so I am inclined to believe that Game 5 will be another shootout. The Lakers better hope they shoot 57% again if they want to win Game 5.

  20. Mick the Ripper - May 26, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    So Lakers4Lyfe, what adjustments will the Lakers have to make to win this series. PHX is now dominating at both ends of the court, Kobe cant win these games on his own and the other guys cant make contested shots. Robin Lopez is giving this team fits, Suns are beating this team with terrific ball mocement. Lakers d will focus on 3′s huh, do you not think they were already trying to contest those shots? LA is outmatched with PHX’s depth.

  21. LakersfansRidiots - May 26, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    Ha, the Suns lost 3 road games, your precious Lakers lost 4 road games. You need to buy yourself a brain before you start speaking.

  22. Hugh - May 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM

    Once the Suns started playing at home, the free throw differential got drastically disproportionate. The Suns shot 22 more free throws in game 3 and 19 more free throws in game 4. I don’t think the games could’ve been gift wrapped better for the Suns.

  23. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 27, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Uhm… funny how you guys started showing up now that the Suns have won Game 4. Where were you guys during Games 1 and 3? Because of HCA, LA need not have to win more road games. I’ll bookmark this page just to see if these same bunch of muchachos will show up here when LA takes the series. I don’t care if it takes a Game 7. Experience is the key. Any of the present Suns players have any experience winning the WCF? I thought so. I don’t even need to ask if you guys got any rings even in recent years.

  24. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 27, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    Uhm… funny how you guys started showing up now that the Suns have won Game 4. Where were you guys during Games 1 to 3? Because of HCA, LA need not have to win more road games. I’ll bookmark this page just to see if these same bunch of muchachos will show up here when LA takes the series. I don’t care if it takes a Game 7. Experience is the key. Any of the present Suns players have any experience winning the WCF? I thought so. I don’t even need to ask if you guys got any rings even in recent years.

  25. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 27, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    The thing is, both teams took care of business when games are played in their turf. And judging by performances in NBA playoff games, the home team winning has a higher percentage of incidence. The challenge is for the Suns to take a road win. If we follow the trend of HCA, then sayonara Suns. Dusk is near and it’s time to set again. Just rise next season in November.

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