By Craig Kwasniewski
The Suns didn't get the memo... you know the one that states they're too small to really contend for a title. I mean seriously, they're supposed to be the cutesy team led by the wacky Canadian that scored a ton, didn't play defense but never really contended for a championship. This was supposed to be the team that we all love while the big bad Lakers eventually slap, beat and grind them out of the playoffs. We were all supposed to give standing ovations to Grant Hill for his heart, Amar'e for his athleticism, Jason Richardson for his incredible shooting, Alvin Gentry for his coaching and Steve Nash for being all things Steve Nash.
They didn't get the memo...
Here are a few thoughts going into Game 5:
Alvin Gentry is doing a hell of a job! Down 2-0 after two blowouts, with everyone already planning for a Celtics-Lakers rematch, the Suns looked bad, nah they were just awful. Gentry got the Suns to believe that they're system will eventually turn the series around. Just keeping their heads held high after two thorough defeats is amazing enough, but to turn the entire series in their favor... clearly he's the difference-maker in the series. Conversely the Lakers stopped believing in the Triangle as soon as the Suns broke out the zone defense. Triangle guys continue to emphasize that this offense works perfectly against zone defenses with the cuts and spacing... except the Lakers guards haven't bought into that idea one bit. Gentry picked up the Suns off the floor, gave them confidence, convinced them that they can hang with the Lakers and took control of this series all in one week's time.
The Lakers are so damn frustrating! Everyone watching knows what LA needs to do to win this series. The Lakers coaches, the players themselves, even the fans all know... use the size advantage and attack from the inside-out in the Triangle, don't shoot too many threes knowing that long rebounds can lead to fastbreak points and stay at home on the Suns pick-and-roll schemes, no need to double team, just stay at home. Everyone knows this. EVERYONE!!!!
Yet here we are with the Lakers getting stymied by a zone defense and jacking up 30 threes a game. This is exactly what the Suns wanted: to seduce the Lakers into a three point contest and run and gun all over the place. Instead of controlling the pace and working the ball inside, the Lakers guards lose patience and belief in their system. Basketball can be such a simple game, long shots equal long rebounds and leak-out points for the Suns. Early shots in the shot clock also equal rebounds and leak-out points for the Suns. Poor ball movement leads to turnovers and also leak-out points for the Suns.
Also, what happened to the scrambling defense that shut down the Suns late in game 2? The Suns are the best three point shooting team in the league and you continue to leave them WIDE OPEN? REALLY? Stay at home and let Nash and Amar'e get theirs. Game 3 was very winnable despite Stat's HUGE scoring output. The Suns are VERY dangerous when they get balanced scoring. Stay at home!
Are the Suns Kobe's and Phil Jackson's nemesis? In 2006, the Suns were the first team to ever eliminate Phil Jackson in the first round. Also in 2006, the Suns were the first team to eliminate a Phil Jackson squad with a 3-1 series lead. After losing to the Suns in 5 games in 2007, Kobe went off on the Lakers organization in frustration and asked to be traded. The Suns crazy multi-angled pick and roll offense seem to confuse the Lakers defensive principles. They switch and rotate off the initial pick and leave too many perimeter shooters wide open... and now they're hitting them. The Lakers move closer and closer to their third elimination by the Suns in five years. Nemesis anyone?
Jordan Farmar, it's time to go. Farmar has done nothing to improve his game over the past 2 years. He no longer sees the court well, he no longer has a feel for the pace of the game and he no longer runs the damn offense. Seriously, feed the post!!!
In 2007, we were impressed with Jordan Farmar's youth and confidence. We all agreed when Phil Jackson started him over Smush Parker in the playoffs against Phoenix in 2007. He was brash but the right collection of composure and heart. He earned every bit of praise that year. In 2 or 3 years, he was the perfect successor when Derek Fisher retires. WAS is the operative word. Somewhere last season Farmar lost his feel for the game. His passes are lazy, he gambles too much on defense, he takes waaaaay too many ill-advised threes and he forgot how to feed the post. Not good for a player with a contract extension on the line. The Suns have completely destroyed Farmar in this series... it's time to go.
Game 5 outlook... I'll be honest, I'm not too confident going into this game. The Lakers really should have closed out on the Suns in a very winnable game 3. They didn't get that killer instinct (read: Odom played like an ass). Now the Suns offense is running on all cylinders as role players are hitting shots they were bricking in games 1 and 2. They're extremely confident and can smell the Finals right around the corner. People are breaking out stats like the Lakers are 18-0 all-time in home Game 5's when tied 2-2. Or that they're 8-0 in Game 5's over the past three seasons. The Suns destroyed a few of those type of stats back in 2006. To me they're just empty numbers.
Game 5 will be won on the Lakers defensive end of the floor. Will they get out and contest the jumpers with urgency? 41 points in the second quarter of game 4 is embarrassing. I don't care that the Suns were literally hitting all their threes, you should never give up that many points in a playoff game! All the talk has been about the Suns shutting down the Triangle with their vaunted zone defense. Nope... it's the defense stupid and the Lakers aren't playing it.
Zone is a junk defense! The Lakers lack of execution is making it look like the modern day 40 Minutes of Hell. It's a junk defense that can easily be solved if the Lakers get penetration in the soft spots. Flash Gasol to just inside the freethrow line and feed him the ball (unless you're Jordan Farmar, who jacks up another three instead). The defense has to commit from either the low block, exposing the baseline to a cutter or the guards have to drop down, leaving someone like Kobe open for a 17-foot jumper. Also Gasol can reverse the ball, creating an open mid-ranger jumper. Or the Gasol can drop down a little lower, draw two defenders and pass to a cutter. It's really easy to attack a zone if you have bigs like Gasol and Odom who are great passers. The key is for the guards (not named Farmar) to have the confidence to feed the post and attack from inside out. It's a junk defense... no team has ever won a title running the zone.