PHOENIX — The Suns tried many thing in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.
Few of them worked.
But one successful permutation Gentry utilized was going small with Grant Hill at the four and Jared Dudley at the three flanking Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Amare Stoudemire, a lineup that outscored Los Angeles 35-25 in essentially a quarter of action in a series that has seen the Lakers outscore the Suns by 43 points in the other seven theoretical quarters.
As I went over at length on Friday, small ball has been about the only thing working for the Phoenix Suns as counter intuitive as it sounds to match the Lakers’ size advantage with quickness.
So why do the Suns think this lineup has been so effective?
“I think we were making shots,” Steve Nash said. “They were leaving Grant on the pick and rolls, and he made a bunch of shots. Jared made shots, so we were scoring a lot of points, which got us back in the game, and defensively I think we had a lot of intelligence and quickness on the floor and made smart reads and made it difficult for them.”
Added Gentry, “We were able to spread the floor, and when you make shots you’re an effective unit. Grant made shots, JD made shots, J-Rich made shots. When you do that you’ll be an effective unit.”
And Dudley, “Scrappy, getting into them a little more, pressure a little more and cause more turnovers, and with that spread the floor more and when we got the ball had more driving lanes.”
The question now is if Gentry would dare try it again for extended stretches after it worked so well in Los Angeles.
It’s a lineup the Suns only used for about 52 minutes of action in the regular season, so it’s not a typical Phoenix lineup. This year the Suns have gone with two bigs in most of their lineups.
“We’re probably going to have to do that,” Gentry said of playing bigger. “I think we’re very good offensively with the small group in there, but it’s just really hard to rebound the basketball and fight those guys. Even with the effort that Grant and JD give us, we’re still so, so undersized.”
Nash said he thinks the Suns could only get away with being so undersized “for stretches.”
“You’re short too long out there it’s inevitable that you will get hurt in the post or on the glass,” he said. “But for stretches maybe we can make a run.”
Perhaps that is inevitable. Perhaps the Suns just happened to have three hot wing players surrounding Nash and Amare.
Or perhaps the Suns had three hot wing players because the Lakers were having more problems matching up with the Suns than the Suns did matching up with the Lakers.
Perhaps Grant Hill was always open on that pick-and-roll and Jared Dudley got so many good looks for three because a Lakers big had to be checking one of them on the perimeter. As Gentry said, this is a very good offensive unit (Phoenix’s best this series in fact), and it certainly causes matchup problems at the Suns’ end of the floor.
So it’s a great offensive lineup, we all can agree on that. But the Suns don’t need to make changes to get more offense on the floor.
What surprised me was how Jared Dudley described this unit.
“Our small lineup’s our best defensive lineup, there’s no secret about that,” Dudley said. “When me and Grant are both out there we can switch off guys, we can help and still get back to our guys, so we’ll do it sometimes.”
I’m not so sure it’s not a secret. Although it has been the Suns’ best defensive unit of the series by the numbers, it seems too short to be effective at that end at first glance, but I see what Dudley means. With Hill and JD on the floor, you have Phoenix’s two best perimeter defenders together at the same time, and they can switch stuff and take turns on Kobe.
But it’s hard to call this Phoenix’s “best defensive lineup” without the Suns’ best interior defender. That’s why I think the Suns should consider playing small ball with Robin Lopez patrolling the paint.
I think everyone would be much more comfortable with Ro-Lo as the sole big man as opposed to Amare, and with all the scoring already on the floor, the Suns would be fine with Lopez instead of STAT on that end.
Although this is not a unit the Suns have played this year, it takes the essence of what has been Phoenix’s most effective lineup against the Lakers thus far and adds a player who could plug up the biggest weakness in the lineup.
There’s no question the Suns also need quality minutes from Channing Frye and a monster game from Amare, but a dosage of small ball could be just what the Suns need to make a game-turning run or two.