Well, it's a series now.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better for the Phoenix Suns. It did. But no one had expected, including Phoenix, how well they were going to shoot from three-point land and this many role players to get the touch for it. The Suns bombarded the Lakers in the first half and in the 4th quarter with three after three en route to a 115-106 victory in Game 4 — their second straight win to tie the Western Conference Series 2-2.
The three-pointers were somewhat sporadic until Channing Frye (14 pts.) decided to end his vacation and hit his first shot in 18 tries. That shot became a source of inspiration for the rest of his teammates and it was suddenly raining in the desert. Frye led the Suns with 4 three-pointers, and Jared Dudley (11 pts.) chipped in 3 of his own.
But the Suns always had the reputation of being the best in the entire association when it comes to shooting the long ball, so they were well overdue in this series. However, an often weak Laker defense certainly made most of those shots possible.
With his eyes still simmering but his face restraining every bit of his true emotions, Kobe Bryant didn't hesitate in acknowledging that the Laker defense "sucked" during his post-game interview. He wasn't kidding.
The Lakers were more concerned with the pick-and-roll game between Steven Nash and Amar'e Stoudamire rather than compensating for the perimeter shooters lined up from behind the arc. So their rotations were slow, and often they lost sight of their man who almost always drifted farther away for get a more open look at the basket.
Even in their transition defense, the Lakers were caught occupying the paint rather than meeting the shooters for the Suns at the three-point line where they knew the Suns love to launch their threes.
Phil Jackson joined Kobe by blaming their poor defense to the lack of "commitment" by the Lakers to that side of the floor.
Bryant also pointed out that the Lakers were too focused on getting things done on offense rather than having more urgency on the other end. After all, the Suns have not prevented the Lakers from scoring less than a 100 points in their 2 victories. But the defending champs have allowed 118 points in Game 3 and 115 points in Game 4.
But it wasn't just their defense that cheated them a 3-1 lead in this series. The Lakers gave up 18 offensive rebounds to a Sun team that averages 10.2 in the post-season and didn't put up much of a fight on the defensive boards either being outrebounded 51-36. Much of the results in this series were concentrated on free-throws, but rebounds are just as vital to any win. Allow the opponent to dominate the glass on both ends, it won't matter how many freebies from the line you get.
However, this win wouldn't have been possible for the Suns if hadn't been for their bench. They outscored the Laker "bench mob" 52-20 and took over the game in the 4th quarter after the Lakers momentarily took a 2-point lead. The Phoenix bench did such a great job that Alvin Gentry kept them in the game even after most of the Laker starters had returned on the floor.
That pretty much sums up how the Suns dominated this game and how much confidence they now have against the Lakers in this series. But will that transfer over in Game 5 in Los Angeles? Hard to tell. Phoenix have been miserable at Staples Center all season long having lost all meetings with the defending champs there. But we'll see.
The Lakers were led by Bryant with game-highs 38 points and 10 assists. Kobe didn't have a single point in the 1st quarter electing to set the table for his teammates instead. But he quickly turned it on when the Lakers were desperate for consistent points in the 2nd and 3rd quarter with his own barrage of 3-pointers and stop-on-a-dime jumpshots. But just like Game 3, his big numbers weren't enough because the Suns were just all over the place.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were cut-down to size once again with that dreaded zone defense so there wasn't a lot of touches or good looks at the basket. Pau took 14 shots again but only converted 6 this time for 15 points and only 5 rebounds. Andrew had his second best game of the series with 12 points and 8 boards. But just like every game of this series, his effectiveness and mobility on the court drastically take a nose dive in the second half.
That is something Phil will have to address ASAP. I thought that he stayed with Bynum in the 4th quarter a little too long when the Lakers needed as much speed on the floor as possible to keep up with the Suns. I understand that he was giving Pau time to rest, but he could've inserted DJ Mbenga or Josh Powell until it was time to bring in Gasol.
Lamar Odom had the second double-double for the Lakers with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. He did as much as he could attacking the boards, but he also missed a few defensive rotations that almost all resulted in a made three for Phoenix. Ron Artest pitched in with his 13 points, but he's being hesitant again with his shots. At this point, I think Ron is torn between his natural instincts on the court and doing the right thing for the team. Phil or Kobe should encourage him to be more intent with his shooting as long as it's within the confides of the Triangle.
Losing Games 3 and 4 on the road is nothing new to the Lakers. Remember when the same thing happened against the Thunder, and everybody thought they were done and out? Remember what the Lakers did after that? Yup, they stepped it up a notch and won the next two games to clinch Round 1.
And that's what they're gonna have to do again in this series. The Suns did their job of defending their home turf because they had a better sense of urgency and played with more emotion than them. So the Lakers will have to get nasty and get right down to business on Thursday and for the rest of the way to get the Suns out of the way.
I know Kobe will be his old feisty self in Game 5.
Can't wait for Thursday!
Other Notes: Kobe surpassed "The Mailman" Karl Malone for 4th on the NBA's all-time scoring in the playoffs by scoring his 4,785th points in Game 4. Shaquille O'Neal is up next at 5,248 points.
Game 4 highlights: