By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The Phoenix Suns found a recipe for success on Sunday night in Game 3. The question is whether they can repeat it in Game 4? The recipe for the Suns was to score 118 points and hold the Lakers to 109. The recipe for the Suns was to be aggressive and get to the free throw line; they attempted 42 free throws to the Lakers 20. The recipe was to take care of the ball and force turnovers with their zone defense; the Suns only had 7 turnovers for the game and they forced 17 turnovers. The recipe was to defend, rebound and get out on the break; the Suns scored 18 points in transition in Game 3. The recipe was to limit the point differential in the paint. The Lakers had been a plus 28 points in the paint in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3 the Suns utilized a 2-3 zone and kept the points in the paint close; 44-40 only a minus 4 differential for the Suns.
The three biggest factors in the Suns ability to win Game 3 were Amare Stoudemire’s performance, the zone defense the Suns utilized, and the emergence of Robin Lopez. Stoudemire was aggressive from the first possession of the game, he was active, he was in constant movement and he attacked the rim on 1-1 drives and pick and rolls. Amare scored 42 points on 22 field goal attempts and 18 free throw attempts. He grabbed 11 rebounds and set a tone for the Suns from the opening tap.
The Suns switched up from their man to man defense to a 2-3 zone in the second quarter of Game 3. The zone allowed them to take away easy baskets in the paint, forced the Lakers out of their triangle offense, and limited their ability to consistently get Kobe Bryant the ball in his sweet spots. The zone made the Lakers very uncomfortable, because they turned the ball over and jacked up a high number of 3 point shots. The Lakers were 9-32 (28%) from behind the arc, and during the regular season the Lakers only attempted on the average 19 shots from the 3 pt line.
Lopez was a difference maker for the Suns in Game 3. He played his best game of the series scoring 20 points on 8-10 from the field. He provided the Suns with size, defense and toughness. He did not back down to the Lakers and gave hard fouls to protect the rim when necessary. Lopez played with a nice rhythm and did not look like a player that had recently come back from an injury. The Suns will need him in this series to combat the length and size of Gasol and Bynum.
Game 4 Adjustments
A zone defense has the ability to take the ball out of a stars hands. In Game 3 it limited the ability of the Lakers to get Kobe Bryant the ball in his sweet spots and keep him in an offensive rhythm. In addition the zone took away the Lakers ability to score in the paint. They had dominated points in the paint in Games 1 and 2 and in Game 3 they only outscored the Suns by four points. The Lakers need to improve their attack of the Suns zone defense. They need to use their post players more, attack the gaps of the zone with dribble penetration and not settle for 3 point shots.
The Lakers did not look comfortable attacking the zone. They did not dribble penetrate the gaps of the zone, making two defenders play one and find a better shot for a teammate. At the end of the game Kobe Bryant drove the zone and got to the rim, but it was way too late. The Lakers did not use their big men effectively. They played offensively with four offensive players on the perimeter and one inside versus the zone. They need to utilize one more post player inside or along the baseline. Odom and Gasol are very good passing big men and if the Lakers can get the ball into their hands in the middle of the zone or on the baseline they will be much more effective. The Lakers must be much more aggressive attacking the zone inside so that they can get to the foul line.
The Lakers cannot settle for so many 3 point shots. Kobe went 2-8, Artest 2-7, Odom 0-4 and Brown 1-5. Derek Fisher was the only Laker to shoot 50%, he went 3-6 from behind the arc. The Suns beat the Lakers badly from the foul line. The Suns were overly aggressive and got to the foul line 42 times. They Lakers struggled versus the zone and settled for perimeter shots. They did not make a concerted effort to get the ball inside against the zone and score. It showed up in their inability to get to the foul line, they only had 20 attempts for the game.
The Suns showed their hand in Game 3 with their zone defense. With two days to prepare the Lakers should be more comfortable attacking the zone in Game 4. If they can get the ball into the teeth of the defense with the dribble of the pass, be more aggressive getting to the rim and not settle for the 3 point shot they should be able to beat the Suns in Game 4.
The Suns had the recipe to beat the Lakers in Game 3. Stoudemire’s 42 points, the zone defense, and the play of Robin Lopez. If they can have a repeat performance they may be able to knot this series at 2-2. Anything short of that will push the Lakers to a 3-1 advantage.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 4