It was just a matter of time before the Suns bench started to produce. They fired on all cylinders last night to push the Suns past the Lakers and tie this series up 2-2.
The Lakers starters outscored the Suns starters 86-61 but the Suns bench outscored the Lakers reserves by a whopping 54-20. Every single player from that second unit played their best game of the series.
That feat was quite easy for Channing Frye who came into this game shooting 0-16 in the first three games. Frye had 15 points while hitting 4 of 8 three-pointers. And as if the Suns bench needed any luck, during the second quarter Robin Lopez was supposed to sub in for Frye but didn't get to the scorer's table on time. Frye took advantage of the extra time and knocked down a couple threes.
Leandro Barbosa had 16 points through the first three games and had 14 last night. When he's hot - watch out. Everything fell for him last night as he hit 6 of 8 shots.
Louis Amundson provided many hustle plays - as he always does. He had three offensive rebounds and was a perfect three for three from the field.
Jared Dudley scored in double figures and Goran Dragic made it possible for Steve Nash to play just 30 minutes. In fact, the entire bench played so well that no starter played over 31 minutes. This is in stark contrast to the Lakers where aside from Andrew Bynum who played 25 minutes, the other four starters played at least 33 and Bryant sat just three minutes the entire game.
While the Suns reserves played great, blame must be placed on LA's lackluster defense. They were simply outhustled. The Lakers continued to jack up three-pointers and that allowed the Suns to get out in transition. The Lakers were slow to get back and not only did that lead to open threes but it also led to more offensive rebounds off some of those missed shots.
All the talk after Game 3 was the zone that shut down the Lakers. But Phil Jackson had a couple days to strategize and make a game plan on the best way to attack it. The Lakers would be fine, right? Not quite. They did a slightly better job attacking. They moved the ball a little more and Bryant particularly played well against the zone. Without a man glued to him, Bryant was able to catch and shoot. Even with a player close by, he was knocking down just about everything in the second and third quarters. He was the only reason the Lakers managed to hang around as long as they did.
TNT analyst, Kenny Smith made a terrific point that for most teams
breaking down the zone would be easy. But most teams have a typical
point guard who can penetrate the zone and either pull up for a short
jumper or find the holes and pass through them. The Lakers don't have a
typical point guard though. So they wind up throwing the ball
around the perimeter and almost never look to drive into the zone.
The only way they successfully attacked the zone was when they got the ball to Pau Gasol at the top of the key. From that spot he can survey the court and has the skills to pass, shoot, or drive. But the Lakers didn't utilize Gasol at that spot nearly enough.
The Suns defense also deserves credit for shutting down Gasol and Bryant in the fourth. The two combined for just seven shots and nine points. They doubled both players and forced Lamar Odom and Ron Artest to beat them. Those two combined to go 1-8 from three-point range. Three-point shooting has been a problem all season and now the Suns are exploiting that weakness. Someone besides Kobe must be able to hit some of those open threes or else the zone can double team the big threats and pack inside to prevent the easy shots.The series returns to Los Angeles on Thursday where the Lakers dominated the first two games. While the Suns' bench won't play as well as they did last night, that zone is still causing problems and the Lakers must find a way to exploit it's weaknesses.