The Phoenix Suns' bench mob drives Game 4 victory

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ bench has been building leads and making comebacks all season.

But this was the Western Conference Finals, a time when the stars usually shine, not an occasion that usually ends with an entire bench unit being interviewed by Craig Sager.

On a night that appeared to be the Suns’ signature three-point shooting game when the Suns went on a 41-point rampage in the second quarter (it wasn’t), this game ended up belonging to the bench crew that built leads in both the second and fourth quarters in the Suns’ 115-106 Game 4 win. The series now heads back to Los Angeles tied at two games apiece.

“The bench was fantastic,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “They were by far easily the difference tonight.”

Added Grant Hill, “They won the game for us.”

The bench outscored their Los Angeles counterparts 54-20, as three Suns reserves hit double figures. Every bench player was in the positive double digits of plus-minus, led by Goran Dragic’s +18 in 18 minutes (thanks to eight points, eight assists and four boards). They were a key part of that 41-point second and they used a 12-2 fourth-quarter run to win the game against Lakers starters.

Although both the starters and reserves scored proficiently, it was the bench unit that really locked down in the zone and used its quickness to force Los Angeles to the perimeter while helping the Suns dominate the battle of the boards to the tune of 51-36, surprising since it’s usually difficult to rebound out of a zone.

To the national fan, seeing Lou Amundson (seven boards in 17 minutes) and Goran Dragic get the better of the vaunted Lakers must have been surprising, but anybody who has watched the Suns all season must be wondering why the bench waited until Game 4 to unleash a performance like this.

This goes back to the confidence head coach Alvin Gentry has shown in the bench all season. He has gone 10 deep throughout the year and has left the bench in to finish halves and games when the unit is going particularly well all season. Therefore, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the bench would come through like this and then that Gentry would leave them in as a unit for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

“I think Alvin is smart in that he played them all season,” Hill said. “It’s not like he played them when he needed them. He played those guys, developed those guys, gave them confidence regardless of whether they were playing poorly or not. He put them out there all season, and they’ve had games like this before. They’ve had games where they won it for us. It’s not luck, it’s not by chance. They’ve been playing great all season.”

In the aftermath of this victory, Gentry told tales of starters asking to stay on the bench instead of checking in when his bench counterpart was going well, and Gentry later compared the Suns to a college team, which is fitting considering the way they freak out on the sidelines after a big play (I mean that in a good way) and since they’re winning with a 2-3 matchup zone.

After the Lakers’ bench played pretty well in Los Angeles, the unit didn’t even show up in this one aside from de facto starter Lamar Odom, who went for 15 and 10. If you take Odom out of the mix, the rest of the Lakers’ reserves were 2-for-13 with one rebound and five assists to go with a combined -33 in 31 minutes. The Lakers lost 21 points in the 14 minutes Shannon Brown played alone.

If the Lakers’ starters were to struggle, they would have had nowhere to turn on this night. But on a night in which no Suns starter recorded a positive plus-minus figure, the entire bench was in double figures in this measure, and that’s why the reserves ended their night on TNT.

“We definitely played the way we like to play, the way we wanted to play,” Amundson said.

To Gentry it was also important that the bench came in to a tied game at the beginning of the second quarter after the Suns have made a habit of digging deficits in this series. Just as they did in Game 2 of the San Antonio series, the bench changed the complexion of the game with sheer hustle.

Gentry applauded their defensive effort in particular, and really to me this has to do with creating a Phoenix Suns type of game. The reserves upped the energy level and created a fast game with threes flying on all sides. Sure, Kobe got hot in the second quarter (scoring 15) to keep the Lakers close and he later scored 16 in the third to get them closer, but he could not keep up in the fourth when he did not score until 1:32 remained.

Meanwhile, the Suns were able to continue scoring at an efficient pace while the Phoenix reserves in particular kept the Lakers on the perimeter.

Finally, this night was about Channing Frye’s redemption, another example of Alvin Gentry sticking with his guys. As I wrote in today’s Daily Dime, Frye was mired in the worst prime time slump that Phoenix has seen since Byung-Hyun Kim. The sweet-stroking big man was just 1-for-20 in the series after missing 16 consecutive shots entering this one, but once he hit his first three (a trey Frye knew was going in all the way that came after he missed his first shot of the contest) the slump was over.

Frye proceeded to nail a pair of long balls a minute apart in the Suns’ monster second quarter — which happened soon after Robin Lopez headed to the scorer’s table to originally check in for him — and then he drilled a dagger at the shot-clock buzzer in the fourth quarter during the Suns’ 12-2 run.

“I told you guys I’m just going to continue to shoot, and my teammates believed in me and I continued to just believe in myself,” Frye said. “I kind of came to a realization this is for some players a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so why work so hard and why still be playing when it’s almost June if you’re not going to go out there and just have fun and let it ride?”

Frye’s phone has been ringing off the hook with friends offering advice, and Frye said he couldn’t go anywhere around town — not even Circle K for a Slurpee — without getting some tips on his stroke.

But Frye insists his confidence never wavered.

“Come on, man, you’re asking the wrong dude,” Frye said. “My confidence is great every day. I’ll be honest, last game I was what, 0-for-7? If I shot another seven I thought I was going to go 7-for-14, so that’s what you have to do, you have to believe in yourself and believe if you’re putting in the work just go out there and shoot the ball.”

We’re about 1150 words deep into this story and there’s been hardly any word of the Suns’ starters.

That in a nutshell is what this night was all about.

Sure, Nash, Amare and Richardson all put up some stats, but it was the frenzied energy and sweet shooting of the reserves that won this game for the Suns.

The question now is if the bench will be able to duplicate this effort Thursday in Los Angeles.

And 1

Amundson on being interviewed by Craig Sager as a unit: “It was cool. It was real cool the fact that they just recognized that whole second unit. It’s only fair. I think we all feel like it’s a group effort every time we’re out there. We all kind of contribute, so it meant a lot to be recognized as a group.”

Dudley on the honor: That’s good for our bench. Sometimes you need a little recognition for what you do, and this team and our unit we go 10 deep. Most teams don’t do it, Lakers only go 7-8 guys.”

Dudley on Frye busting out of the slump: “It’s good. It’s good for us because he’s someone who’s all about confidence, so I could see him next game go 4-for-5 on threes. That’s how he is. Once he sees the ball go in the basket, there’s no telling what he might do.” …

The Suns hit just 22-of-32 free throws (68.8 percent), and they ended up knocking down only 11-of-30 threes (36.7 percent) despite the hot 8-for-16 second quarter from distance. … The Suns are a perfect 10-0 in the playoffs when holding a double-digit lead. They have won 25 of their past 26 such games overall. … Phoenix is 9-0 when leading or tied at halftime. … The Suns became the fourth team in franchise history to win 10 playoff games. Only the 2006 version of the Suns didn’t reach the Finals of the squads that accomplished that feat. … The Suns are 6-1 at home in the playoffs and have won seven straight home playoff games against the Lakers. The Suns are 9-2 all-time in Phoenix against Kobe Bryant in the playoffs.

  • Jasper Buckleman

    They've got to bring that intensity to LA. They did it with San Antonio and I think they'll be a lot less startled and a lot more confident going back to LA now.

    They have to win 1 game in LA. It might as well be game 5. Suns in 6!

  • CornFlakes

    The Suns finally got their mojo back! I still see this probably going 7 games, but the Suns may just come out of this alive!

    @Jasper, ditto. Win Game 5 so we can seal it up at home for the crowd!

  • Samahn Soleimanian

    The Suns suck. They really do. The refs probably found some polyps up their asses they way they blew the whistle every time a phoenix player fell down (read: flopped). This is similar to the Thunder series, only the Suns are not as good as the Thunder. The Lakers will take care of business in game 5 and probably in game 6 as well. The refs really called a biased game again as in game 3, and the Lakers are tired of dealing with refs who are influenced by the crowd. The reason the NFL makes money is because their refs are consistent in any crowd, but thats another story.

  • Mel.

    Oh, boohoo. Those dirty refs and their lopsided whistle-blowing. They were responsible for the Lakers' garbage defense and the fact that Kobe couldn't pay any of the LA reserves to take some of the load off his back.

    The rest of this dumbass diatribe is so confusing that it defies response; polyps? NFL refs? The Lakers "probably" winning game 6? Pick a conspiracy theory and ride it out, hoss. You're not only coming off as the typical sad, bitter, fairweather Laker-lover, but also a straight-up schizoid.

    That said, look for a huge game from Kobe-ME in Five, for the benefit of the dead-lung'd Staples Center crowd. If he doesn't go into Sith Lord mode after his post-game diatribe and shred the Suns singlehandedly, there's going to be some problems.

  • Michael

    Samahn shut the FUCK up. you are a laker fan that knows nothing. We said that about the first two games of this series. it's what HOMECOURT does for you. moron. and is it our problem that the lakers constantly foul? if they didn't make the contact, the flop wouldn't work. so shut up samahn, you are a stupid, bandwagon laker fan. I don't mind talking basketball with laker fans that actually understand the game of basketball, and you clearly do NOT.

  • sun also rises

    I have five dollars that says "Samahn" is Lakeshow for Life pretending to be someone else. Now that his empty predictions for a sweep and a 3-1 lead have been totally wrong he's hiding under a new name while he trolls. Funny!

  • Jasper Buckleman

    This game proved one of the problems I had with all of the pundits saying the Lakers were going to roll to a game 4 victory. In game 3, both teams were terrible from the 3-point line and both benches were terrible. I couldn't understand why everyone thought the Lakers were going to start making their 3s and that the Laker bench was going to show up. The Suns were one of the best teams of ALL TIME from the 3-point line and their 5-man second unit has excelled all year, while the Lakers have Odom and . . . ? If someone had asked me which team would turn it around in those two categories, how can you vote against the Suns.

  • Mike Meez

    Same story as Game 3- Lakers fell into Suns trap and took a bunch of 3s and jump shots so they didn't draw many fouls. Lakers did a little better breaking down the zone and managed a healthy 42 points in the paint but when they did manage to break down the zone they would get easy layups/dunks so no opportunity to draw foul there either. I actually thought the Suns got called for a few ticky-tack fouls whereas the Lakers generally got away with playing physical. Free throw differential is also exaggerated since 6 or 8 of the Suns attempts were in the last couple minutes when Lakers had to foul.

    Unsung Stat: Rebounds- Suns won the battle on the boards by 15! That is not supposed to happen against the Lakers but I guess I shouldn't be surprised because the Suns were not supposed to be able to outrebound the Spurs either.

    It's also interesting to note that even with Kobe's huge game (38 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds), he was a -4 while on the floor.

  • MKM

    The “Fantastic Five” is absolutely the BEST second unit in the NBA! Out-scoring starters of the defending champ by 10+ points in the crucial 4th quarter.
    Basketball is truly a team sport at its best! Go SUNS!!!

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  • Bond

    Phoenix Suns is part of my life. I am really really glad to be a fan of this fantastic team.

    It proves teamwork, ball-sharing, integrity, sexy basketball can really shine as well.

    This is my most valuable experience as a sport fan so far in my life.


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  • Brian

    Welcome to the series, bench. Hope you’re here to stay.

  • NewOrder

    I don't know why this is such a point of confusion for people. It's really, really simple:

    The Triangle offense, which Phil Jackson cannot coach without – in fact he doesn't coach ANY team with ANY other offense, is all about movement and creating spacing. Its success depends on picks, screens, and all sorts of motion.

    The Triangle offense can't function against a zone. There's no "motion" to be gained when defenders never leave an area. There's no picks or screens because every "gap" ends up with two defenders nearby. Passes to the post end up with at least three and most times four defenders in the offense's face. Dribble drives end in charges more often because the defender doesn't have to move "far" in order to take a charge – just a step or two – and many times the offense is dribbling into two defenders, making it that much harder to avoid the charge.

    Do a Google search on video of the Triangle and you can see the spacing involved. Then imagine a 1-2-2 or a 2-3 zone sitting there and you now are forcing the offense to spread out and take perimeter jump shots.

    That's not what the Lakers are calibrated for – they are not the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA. In fact, they were 23rd this season at .341, tied with MINNESOTA and barely above Oklahoma City (.340). The Suns, on the other hand, were the best in the NBA (.412). That translates to roughly about 9 extra points a game.

    Yes, the Lakers were the best this season at defending the 3 pointer, however the Suns were no slouches either (17th) – but the 17th best defender of the 3 pointer on the 23rd best shooting team yields less points than the best defenders on the best shooters. The Suns will win this battle over the course of a series.

    So the bottom line is, Phil Jackson is going to have problems with the zone for the remainder of the series because 1) he doesn't know how to coach any other kind of offense but the Triangle and 2) even if the Lakers get hot from 3-point range, they have proven they can't sustain it over 4 quarters, let alone a-best-of-3 series. And Game 4 proved that Kobe, as good as he is, can't carry his team anymore for an entire game – his injuries and age have taken some of the gas out of the tank.

  • PJ

    Stealing a game from the Lakers in LA is going to be a very difficult task, but after the energy i saw last night from the bench im convinced that phx can do it!

    A quick aside… Can anyone show me better defense against Gasol in 10 minute stretchs than what Lou played on him last night? Dude is a baller and plays some hard nosed defense, gotta give him some cred.

  • Tony

    I have to admit that I’m a little bit worried by the fact that we now have two games where the ZONE has been such a big concern. I don’t even think it’s the defense itself but the hype surrounding it. My dad used to say teams could “pull a horse shoe out of their a$$e$” and I think Gentry did exactly that with the ZONE hype.

    I’m not taking anything away from the Suns since they are without a doubt the toughest match up we’ve had in the playoffs (Despite what all you fake ass Laker marks who became fans two weeks ago want to say), but it feels like the edge is all psyche right now. Kobe was right, the ZONE was such a distraction that it threw off the team’s rhythm. If that’s all it takes then Phil has got to check his boy’s chests and remind them who they are.

    (Though I got to laugh a little bit when I think about how much hype the TRIANGLE had back in the day with the Bulls, and what it did to teams like the Knicks… hope this isn’t payback)

  • King Fahd

    The bench was great in Game 4. I only wished that Gentry would have kept them in to finish the remainder of the game. For one, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. They sustained a 9-point lead, and they are a better defensive unit than the starters. Also, it would be a horror to see any of our star players get injured for that 3 minute period. And lastly, when the bench was in that mode, Gentry should not shift it to a unit who didn’t play for a long period.

  • Mel.

    NewOrder, I deem you too intelligent for this board. Do you have a blog?

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