Suns use matchup zone, Amare's signature game to defeat the Lakers in Game 3

PHOENIX — After another defenseless first quarter in which the Lakers shredded Phoenix’s defense, the Suns had to do something — anything — to switch up the momentum.

So head coach Alvin Gentry dusted off the zone defense that the Suns have used in spots this season to varying degrees of success and despite another explosive Lakers third quarter it made the difference in a 118-109 Phoenix victory.

The zone has confounded the Suns opponents at times this year — think the road Miami game and home March Denver game — and it has been scorched at other times. On this night it forced the Lakers to the perimeter, slowed down Kobe a bit after his 15-point first quarter (he finished with “just” 36) and made the players the Suns wanted taking shots take the shots.

“It just kind of stopped their momentum,” Grant Hill said. “They settled for a lot of threes. It just kind of got us going. We got some stops, got out in transition. It took them out of their rhythm.”

The Lakers shot just 31.0 percent and turned it over roughly once every five plays in 42 plays against the zone. Against man defense they shot 56.6 percent in 63 plays and turned it over a little more than once every 10 plays, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“It’s the difference in them shooting 58 percent as opposed to 48 percent,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who did not expect to utilize the zone for so long. “We did a really good job in the rotations in the zone, and they still have some shots that didn’t go in that’s been going in the last couple of nights, and that’s what you have to try to make them do, still have to try to have them beat you over the top and not have what they did the last two games.”

The Suns played the 2-3 matchup version of zone that caused Jared Dudley to joke, “We’re like Syracuse out there.”

It certainly looked odd for the Suns to play a zone defense like the one Jim Boeheim popularized, as that’s not the kind of defense that usually wins conference championships (at least not outside the Big East).

But it worked better than anything else the Suns have thrown at the defending champs, as Phoenix limited the Lakers to 107.9 pp100, and that includes the 32-point first quarter against the Suns’ man defense. The Suns had been allowing 132.6 pp100 entering the night, and they rode the zone to a 15-2 first half-ending run that turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Suns led most of the rest of the game.

Most importantly, the zone got the ball out of Kobe’s hands and made guys like Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown beat them, but after entering the series 25-of-44 (56.8 percent), they hit just 7-of-23 from the field (30.4 percent). Except for Derek Fisher’s 18 points, nobody helped Kobe and Pau, who went for 23 on 11-for-14 shooting.

“We went zone more, we tried to shut down everybody else and make Kobe beat us, and we slowed down their role players,” Dudley said.

Added Robin Lopez of a Lakers squad that shot 12 more threes than the Suns and hit just 28.1 percent of them, “We really focused on trying to build our defense inside out, try to make them beat us from the outside.”

On the other end, Amare Stoudemire turned in his signature game of the postseason by scoring a career playoff-high-tying 42 points, his first 40-point playoff game since 2005. STAT was a beast from the start, when he earned as many free throw attempts in the first 3:22 (seven) as he did in all of Game 2.

Stoudemire attacked the rim with ferocity, getting Los Angeles’ entire front line in foul trouble (Lamar Odom ended up fouling out) and playing with an intensity missing in Games 1 and 2.

“Well, he had a pretty sensational performance,” Steve Nash said. “I’m just proud of him. He made some incredible plays. But he was just aggressive. And I think once he got a few free throws early and a few buckets, I think he really felt like, ‘Hey, I can keep attacking,’ and all the frustration from the first two games where it was crowded in there a lot I think subsided. … He was obviously a force.”

Added Stoudemire, “Coach Alvin told me before the game he was going to come to me. Come to me a lot. And I was ready.

“I was totally ready. Being aggressive. I wanted to pretty much attack the bigs a little bit and we got them in a little bit of foul trouble, which helped us. We were the aggressor right there, and it showed.”

Although much of the blame for the Suns’ 0-2 hole in the series fell on Stoudemire, it mainly revolved around his defense. He was fine offensively — going 8-for-13 for 23 in Game 1 and 7-for-14 for 18 in Game 2 — just he settled for too many jumpers instead of taking it to the hole.

This time around he took it right at the Lakers from the start, and they really didn’t have an answer for him. Stoudemire exhibited his creativity and explosiveness around the hoop, getting the Lakers’ bigs in foul trouble while getting to the line 18 times and making nifty buckets that a man of his size should not be able to make.

“He wanted the game bad,” Grant Hill said. “You could just tell the last few days in practice, in the locker room, in the weight room.”

Robin Lopez chipped in with a career-playoff-high 20 points. On the other end the Suns limited Lamar Odom to 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting and Andrew Bynum to just two points in 7:31 thanks to the four fouls he accumulated in that time. The Suns sure got “lucky” that Odom didn’t play well, and it’s possible that Bynum will miss Game 4 due to his gimpy knee.

In addition, the Suns committed just seven turnovers and forced the Lakers into 17. They also got to the line 42 times while the Lakers shot just 20 foul shots. Some would argue that this was a case of home cooking, but it’s also fair to point out that the Suns were the more aggressive team in this contest. While Amare barreled through the lane at will, the Suns’ zone largely kept Los Angeles on the perimeter.

As well as Phoenix played on the surface, the Suns went just 5-for-20 from three-point land, a very un-Suns-like performance, and won offensively with Amare and Robin leading the way and Nash, who may or may not have broken his nose, facilitating with 17 points and 15 dimes.

This is finally a series. It officially won’t be a sweep. But the Suns know they still have some work to do to really get back into this series.

“We have to come out with a chip on our shoulder and play Game 4 like we did obviously in Game 3,” Nash said.

And 1

The Suns have won 13 of 14 home games dating back to the regular season, including five in a row since the Game 1 loss to Portland. … The Suns have won six straight playoff home games against the Lakers. … Los Angeles’ eight-game playoff win streak was snapped. … The Suns have now won nine games in a postseason for the eighth time in franchise history, ,,, Alvin Gentry became the fourth Suns coach in franchise history to win at least nine playoff games in his first postseason with the team. … Robin Lopez and Derek Fisher picked up double technicals when Lopez’s arm grazed Fisher’s head while Robin was jogging downcourt with his arms raised toward the ceiling during the third quarter. Fisher responded by charging at Lopez. … Nash passed Walter Davis for second on the team’s all-time playoff scoring list. MVSteve has scored 1,294 playoff points as a Sun.

  • Mel.

    Random Laker fan comment generator:

    “The (SUNS) don’t stand a chance in game (FOUR) with their weak-ass (ZONE DEFENSE), you got no answer for (KOBE/GASOL/ODOM) and there’s no way (AMAR’E) can pull of a (FORTY-TWO POINT PERFORMANCE) through this series. Lakers (WIN) in (FIVE) games.”

    Much like Madlibs, this template can be used against any upcoming contingency versus the Suns, or anybody else.

    Just here to help.

  • Brent

    Great game – very much a starters' game. Both benches blew.

    One angle not getting discussed is how the longer the series goes, the better the Suns chances are going to be. If this can get to 2-2 – I love the Suns chances.

    Kobe got all kinds of rest and his knee drained before the series – now he is going to be playing 42+ minutes a game on an every other day schedule – and maybe that swelling comes back. Bynum is also struggling with his knee.

    One more note for Coach Gentry – tell FRYE if he does not get either a dunk or charge attacking the rim the first time he touches the ball in Game 4 – he is coming out! TIME TO MAN UP CHANNING!

    Alley-oop for FRYE the first possession he is in and I bet my next paycheck the 3's will start raining!

  • thisgirlsballin

    Amar'e's a stud. Go suns

  • asani

    Amare finally did what he was suppose to have been doing. The lakers have big men but not one of them are great defenders. Attack attack and more attack and nothing but good things will happen for the suns. You will eventually get the bigs in foul trouble and force kobe to go for self. The suns need to pay more attention to the way the lakers roam because they can have a zillion wide open shots if they swing the ball faster. Every time Amare got the ball on the block there were two to three lakers roaming. This should be one of the biggest things they work on in practice because it can turn into a lot of easy buckets. I don't want them leaving fisher open again like they did in game 3 because although he isn't a great player he is a big game shooter when left open. Lopez played great and the lakers don't respect his game so he can do it again. Keep Frye on the damn bench and play Earl Clark. Frye is so soft. He never drives and when he posted up fisher he couldn't even back him down. He is tissue soft

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  • Vamsi

    frye will be the key in the series. Suns got lucky but they cant put pressure on their starters. jrich should be shooting the ball a lot more from beyond the arc and suns should start the first quarter aggressively if they want to win the series. I really hope that frye will come big in 4,5,6 and suns win in six….yeah im really optimistic :)

  • thisgirlsballin
  • LakeShowForLife

    So David Stern wanted you guys to win a game and add some excitement to a pathetically boring playoffs. No biggie. You guys won't see such a huge free-throw discrepancy anymore, I'll tell you that.

    Enjoy this win. Because it'll be the last one you'll get against us.

    We have bigger fish to fry.

  • Robert

    Can we stick a fork in Channing? 1-21 in 3 games is beyond bad, at least Collins would play some defense and pass. I admire Gentry’s commitment to what got them here, but he is just shook right now and frankly hurting the team. At least for game 5, because he has not played well on the road all season.

  • Mike Meez

    Thanks for that incisive commentary "LakeShowForLife." Listen, no one wants to hear Laker fans complain about officiating. And just a tip: you're not going to draw many fouls by shooting 32 3-pointers, not even the Lakers.

    If Suns win game 4, and I don't see why they can't, this is a brand new series with all the momentum for the Suns.

  • Tony

    Gotta love LakeShow using terms like "we."

    This just in, tough guy: your team wins because they're good, not because of fathead fans like you who somehow think that your internet trolling results in -/+.

    I've been a Lakers fan since the days when my dad and I sat in the GWF, but this new fan culture makes me sick. Watch what happens when Kobe starts to fall off and we wind up like we were after the 1991 Finals. Guys like you are going to be b&%!$ like little girls and deserting the gold and purple for the Clips or Kings so quick it'll be funny.

    Real fans support their boys, they don't act like armchair quarterbacks and fantasy football nerds trying to believe we're on the court with them. Get a life.

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  • Z Man

    What a game for Amare and for the team!!!!

    What does this now make STAT if LeBron is a "traitor?" At least he left money on the table in a quest for a ring. What is Amare's excuse? Hill took less money to stay here. Nash did the same. What it shows is that STAT never deserved to be a captain of the team. His arrival in the Big Apple will be for Mike Dunb Antoni's coffin's last nail. Sure would not be surprised if Amare never plays another playoff game.

    This year, the Suns made it to the finals in the West. Last time that happened? When STAT was out for the year. Suns will be just fine without him. Game four and the rest of the series, Amare was nowhere to be found. Who won game four? Frye, Louis, Barbosa, Dud & Gogi. This bench unit not only beat the Lakers' reserves, they also beat the Lakers' best. They did it again in the rest of the games, pulling the Suns out of a starters-dug hole in each game. If they were allowed to finish each game, the championship may have gone to the Suns. We MUST keep them. Good news is that Frye will stay. Louis must also stay here. His passion & energy are keys to pumpimg up the team and the crowd which, in turn, pumps up the team even more. Nash & Gentry MUST STOP Sarver from looking to get rid of Leandro The Laker Killer, just to SAVE EVEN MORE COST!!!! That will be a VERY DARK day for the Suns.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let's go SUNS!!!!