Strong bench play led to even stronger man love in Phoenix last night.
The Los Angeles Lakers: Last night, I got to watch the game with long-time commenter and site contributor Wild Yams. To my dismay, I found out that he's a pretty cool and intelligent guy despite being a Lakers fan. It was kind of like meeting a serial killer who donates to charity and volunteers at the local homeless shelter. But it was a good time nonetheless...even better because the Suns won the game.
Let me be frank: I expected the Suns to lose this one. I did. I figured that, in Game 3, they made the only adjustment they could make...going to the zone defense. That and Amar''''''e Stoudemire went bonkers. To me, it was a gimmick win, something that couldn't be duplicated.
And it wasn't. Turns out, it didn't have to be.
Going into Game 4, I felt there was no way Phoenix could be the Lakers straight up. The Suns apparently felt otherwise. Mind you -- unlike Boston's stink bomb in Game 4 of their series against the Magic -- the Lakers didn't play poorly. They scored 106 points on 50 percent shooting and committed only 7 turnovers for a mere 4 points going the other way. L.A. outscored the Suns 42-32 in the paint and held the run-and-gunners to only 6 fast break points.
And of course Kobe had one of "those" games: 38 points, 15-for-22, 6-for-9 from downtown, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. That's the kind of stat line you usually associate with LeBron James...the kind of line that LeBron fans use as evidence that James is in fact better than Bryant.
But it wasn't enough.
The Suns -- so much weaker up front than the Lakers -- won the rebounding battle 51-36, including 18-13 on the offensive glass. Think about that. Did you think this Phoenix team could ever grab 18 offensive rebounds against this L.A. team? If you said yes, I'm calling shenanigans. But sometimes rebounding is simply about wanting the ball more than the other guy. And get this: Steve Nash finished with almost as many boards (4) as Pau Gasol (5). What does that tell you?
In addition to their rebounding deficit, the Lakers could not handle the Phoenix bench. That's right: The Suns' much-maligned reserves rose from their mass grave to score 54 points on 20-for-32, including 9-for-20 on threes. And check this. Here are the plus-minus scores of the Phoenix starters: Grant Hill (-3), STATUE (-5), Robin Lopez (-3), Nash (-9) and Jason Richardson (-4). The reserves: Channing Frye (+12), Leandro Barbosa (+13), Louis Amundson (+14), Jared Dudley (+12), Goran Dragic (+18), Jarron Collins (HA!).
TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz breaks down the Suns' bench play:
And because I want to, here's Dragic's sick layup around Fish and the Candyman:
Now, I'm not seriously suggesting that the bench players are better than the starters...even if Dragic was 27 points better than Nash on the night. But their effort and intensity changed the game. Frye -- who entered last night 1-for-20 for the series -- hit four treys, including a "Rally Monkey" shot in the fourth -- he drilled it right before the shot clock buzzer buzzed -- that was followed by threes from Barbosa and Dudley. Boom, boom, boom...and the Lakers never really recovered.
In terms of final tallies and raw numbers, the Suns' bench outscored L.A.'s pine riders 54-20 and outrebounded them 23-11. And as ESPN's J.A. Adande pointed out:
The unit of Frye, Dudley, Barbosa, Goran Dragic and Louis Amundson played the first seven minutes of the second quarter and turned a tie score into a 10-point lead even with Bryant on the floor for the Lakers. It was part of a 41-point second quarter. And after the Lakers won the third quarter it was that same unit for the Suns that played deep into the fourth and won the game on a night Amare Stoudemire scored only half of the 42 points he put up in Game 3 and Nash made only three of 11 shots.
L.A.'s defense: Well, let's see: They've given up 233 points over the last two games. In Game 4, the Suns scored 115 points, hit nearly 50 percent of their shots, and earned 32 free throw attempts.
Yeah, I'd say defense is a problem for the Lakers.
Of course, I've been beasting on the Lakers' D for a couple weeks now. It sure ain't what it was during the regular season, when L.A. ranked 4th in Defensive Rating. Now they rank 10th out of 16 playoff teams...giving up 111.1 points per 100 possessions. My take is that Andrew Bynum's general ineffectiveness is the root cause. With Gasol and Bynum at 100 percent and patrolling the paint, the rest of the Lakers could overcommit on their assignments without fear. After all, their two big men would swallow up anybody who got past them.
Well, Bynum has been hampered by a bum knee, and he isn't the defensive force he was. If L.A.'s perimeter defenders overcommit, opponents are getting to the rim or earning fouls. If they don't overcommit, guys are dumping in threes. And, well, there you have it.
But hey, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe D isn't the problem. Let's see what Mamba has to say:
"Our defense could have been much better, I think."
"Coming up here, we lost a sense of urgency defensively. I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone."
"I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively. Our focus was on the other side of the floor, which doesn't win championships. So we need to get back to ground zero when it comes to that."
"We lost the game because our defense sucked."
"Like I said, we've got to do a much better job defensively. Paying attention to [Phoenix's bench], all of them, and staying in front of your man and things like that."
"Looking forward to the challenge. I know my guys are. [We need] to get back to the basics of playing defense the right way."
"Our attention needs to be on the defensive end, period. That's second-chance opportunities [as well]."
"I was more aggressive in the second quarter. Felt the game slipping away, got going, make some shots [and] kept it going. But that has nothing to do with us getting to the next round. We can't -- offensively, we scored enough points. We've got to do a better job defensively, period."
"That's not what wins championships. Everybody wants to talk about the offensive side of the ball. It has nothing to do with it. Gotta defend."
And, well, there you have it.
L.A.'s offense: The Suns played a mix of man-to-man and zone...and the Lakers offense wasn't bad, per se. Like I said, they finished with 106 points and shot 50 percent. BUT...Phoneix again succeeded in seducing the Lakers into chucking an awful lot of jumpers. The result: L.A. attempted 28 three-pointers and only 13 free throw attempts. And as hot as Kobe was, he did most of his damage on contested jumpers of the "No, no, no...yes!" variety.
Is that a formula for success? I don't think so.
The Zen Master doesn't think there's a problem, nor does he think the Suns' zone is having an affect on his team's offense: "We shot 49 percent, didn't we? That's pretty good. Nothing wrong with that. I wouldn't say we're struggling against the zone. I think we're struggling at the defensive end. That's where I see it."
Maybe P-Jax watched a different game than I did, because I saw "clutch" three-point attempts by Ron Artest (1-for-5 on treys) and Lamar Odom (1-for-3 from distance) that bricked badly. I also saw Shannon Brown go 0-for-4 from way out there. Derek Fisher was 0-for-2 and also bricked a crunch time three.
For what it's worth, Bynum thinks he knows what the problem is: "It's the zone. We're settling for outside jump shots. They were out there moving that ball, they were confident playing at home and they really just shot the ball well. They had everybody spaced out so everybody's running around."
Hey, remember back in Games 1 and 2, when Phoenix was scoring points and shooting reasonably well but couldn't get it done? Isn't that basically what's happening to the Lakers right now? Sure, defense is L.A.'s biggest foil...but jacking up contested (and even contested) long-range jumpers sure hasn't helped their cause down the stretch in Games 3 and 4.
Reader comments: Here's where Basketbawful readers' voices can be heard, er, read:
As a Suns fan for decades, I can only say "That - was - effing - beautiful."
As a basketball fan for longer than that, I can only lament that the Phoenix Runs shot the ball unusually well when it counted (even for the the Runs), and that the Lakers blew it when it counted, and that I don't expect this trend to continue even for one more game this series. (Don't get me wrong, I'm still crossing my fingers).
Phil is too great a coach to let a defensively weak team like the Suns run all over his Lakers with zone defense for three games in a row, I doubt it will happen again.
Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, Fisher are too damn good to not put up a better combined performance for three games in a row, I doubt it will happen again.
The Suns bench, god bless them, are pretty good as far as benches go, but they PROBABLY won't have another 54 point game, and "Stat" PROBABLY won't have another 42 point game in this series.
I will weep like a baby if we can see Nash in the finals for the first time in his career, but I still can't help but think it's going to take a miracle.
Still, tell me you didn't jump out of your seat and spill chips and salsa all over your crotch when Frye hit that first tre.
And the lakers do it again, pull out a bazooka and blast their own feet. This game is a prime example of why during the playoffs I prefer the aggressive Bryant than the passer. Took very few shots in the first quarter and his team still fucked it up. As talented as Gasol is, he's so soft that I'm surprised he hasn't been named "The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man". Wtf is it about Europe that produces the softest, most pillowy players on earth? I thought all the pussies were in France but apparently once a country joins the EU they're contractually obligated to remove the testicles of their basketball players.
Bryant pretty much bailed them out from a blow out. For god's sake the suns were playing the zone!! how hard is it to destroy zone defense? High school students can do it. Even if the lakers do end up winning this series they really don't deserve to. Schooled by a team that would have been legally labeled as midgets in 28 states. I honestly prefer to watch Bryant fire away from half court than watch Bynum trip over his own feet as he looks confusedly at the orange sphere in his hands.
The bench don't even warrant a discussion, its been long established that Phil Jackson has murdered them and replaced them with cardboard cut outs. Hopefully next season everyone one the bench with the exception of Odom have been traded (yes even Shannon Brown). Another game they could have easily won shot to pieces with the laker tommy gun of ineptitude.
The Lakers were totally owned tonight. That vaunted "length" of the Lakers got crushed on the boards (at least 50, including a gazillion offensive boards), got crushed by the Suns bench (at least 50 points), and were exposed in the second quarter, giving up 41 points to the Suns, despite having the "4th" ranked defense in the NBA. Note to Andrew Bynum, this is exactly why you do not look ahead to the Boston Celtics. You are not winning this series right now.
Hell, look at the trend. The Lakers scoring has been 128, 124, 109, 106. Meanwhile, the Suns score 107, 112, 118, and now 115. Their offense is getting better, and their defense is getting better. The LA media is going to freak. I love it.
Channing Frye, quote machine: How did that 1-for-20 shooting through three games affect him? Apparently, not at all: "I told you guys I'm just going to continue to shoot, and my teammates believed in me and I continued to just believe in myself. Why work so hard and why still be playing when it's almost June if you're not going to go out there and just have fun and let it ride?"
As for whether his confidence was shaken: "Come on, man, you're asking the wrong dude. My confidence is great every day. I'll be honest, last game I was what, 0-for-7? If I shot another seven I thought I was going to go 7-for-14."
Jared Dudley, quote machine: "You could tell right away tonight that they wanted to take away Amare (Stoudemire) early on. Once they did that, we just set up like target practice."