The Los Angeles Lakers were out-coached and out-played by the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. The storyline of the first two games was about the Suns’ lack of defense and their inability to stop the Lakers’ big men, with LA dominating in the paint. The Phoenix Suns flipped the script and proved the critics wrong with a convincing Game 3 win.
Game 3 Recap
Coach Alvin Gentry’s decision to defend with a 2-3 zone, and offensively attack the rim with Amar’e Stoudemire and Robin Lopez, resulted in 37 made free-throws, 18 fast break points, and a game ending 17-6 run. The Lakers’ inability to defend the paint was evident in Amar’e Stoudemire’s 42 points at 64% FG, and Robin Lopez 20 points on 80% FG.
118 points was the most Phoenix has scored in a game in this series. The Lakers’ 109 point total is 17 points less than their average from games 1 and 2. The Lakers led mid-way in the 4th quarter 91-90 before the Suns finished the last 6 minutes of the game on a 17-6 run.
The two franchise players, Bryant and Nash, showed intense competitiveness throughout Game 3. Kobe Bryant had 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting along with 11 assists, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. However he shot just 2 of 8 from 3-point range. Steve Nash had a personal series-best 17 points and continues to shoot 50% FG and 100% FT.
Derek Fisher found his shooting touch with 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting (50% 3-pt, 100% FT). For the Suns Jason Richardson made four huge 3-pointers en-route to 19 points on 7 of 15 shooting.
The Lakers’ bench struggled yet again. Lamar Odom returned to form after his cameo appearance in the first two games as a super-star. He had just 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting, and 6 rebounds while fouling out of the game trying to defend Stoudemire. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar remind me of the guys at the YMCA who make one highlight play per game, and stink the rest of the time. The two back-up guards combined for just 8 points on 3 of 10 shooting. The Lakers’ bench made just 7 of 24 shot attempts.
Andrew Bynum played just 7 ½ minutes in the game picking up early fouls against Stoudemire. The Lakers will need better defense from Bynum and more production than just 2 points and 2 rebounds. There is no reason why Bynum can’t attack the rim and get Stoudemire in foul trouble instead. If he is too hurt to defend, then he shouldn’t be playing.
Ron Artest regressed back into poor perimeter shooting with just 2 makes in 7 attempts from behind the arch to go with zero assists, zero blocks, and only 6 rebounds.
Kudos to Alvin Gentry for executing a game plan, which clearly Phil Jackson’s Lakers didn’t respond well to. We can expect the Suns to go back to the zone defense in spurts. The Lakers will need to make better shot selections in Game 4. For example, Artest forcing three’s instead of finding Derek Fisher who was shooting 50% from behind the arc was a mistake in Game 3.
Stoudemire had almost as many free-throws (14 for 18) as the Lakers’ entire team (16 for 20) in Game 3. The Suns team shot 37 for 42 from the charity stripe. There is going to be some differential for the home-court host team, but +22 attempts is an unacceptable disparity.
The Suns’ bench struggled with a 3 for 21 shooting performance, and as a team Phoenix made just 5 of 20 three-pointers. If they could have produced in either area, the game may well have been a blow-out win for the Suns.
Suns have yet to slow down Pau Gasol, who had 23 points on 11 of 14 shooting. Gasol is averaging 24 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks per game in this series.
Neither team’s big men have defended well. The Lakers Bynum was ineffective due to foul trouble. Lamar Odom was ineffective largely because of poor perimeter shooting (0 for 4 three-pointers). The Suns zone defense bothered Odom around the rim as well.
Questions for the Lakers?
Game 4 is once again a must win for Phoenix, and a test for LA that will either produce the championship drive needed or expose them as inept. Key questions will be answered in Game 4. Will Phil Jackson adjust to the zone and help his team find the seams to score? Will Lamar Odom and Ron Artest emerge back to all-star caliber? Can Gasol add defensive toughness to his offensive finesse skill? Can the back-up guard duo of Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar provide any substance to go with their spackling of highlights?
And Will Andrew Bynum sit out the rest of this series or breakout into the offensive and defensive force he is capable of?
Questions for the Suns?
In Game 4, Will Dudley, Hill, and Dragic earn more than one made field goal apiece as they did in Game 3? Will the Suns shoot better than 25% from 3-point range? The Lakers took a franchise high 32 three-point attempts in game 3, making just 9. Can the Suns win if the Lakers make 40% or more from downtown? Assuming the Suns earn far fewer free-throw attempts than their 42 in Game 3, can they still out-score the Lakers? If Amar’e Stoudemire gets hurt or in foul trouble, can the Suns still win?
Game 4 Prediction
Momentum is in the Suns’ favor, along with home-court advantage for Game 4. The Suns have yet to peak, and are still in position to tie-the series up. Expect a physical Game 4. Lakers still have a hungry Black Mamba, and will rebound from this loss with a strong effort. This one is going down to the wire. Feeling the pressure from the Celtics wrapping up their series in 4, and understanding the need to quench the Suns momentum, the Lakers will need a gritty performance from the heart of a champion to win Game 4 by 2 points.