PHOENIX — Less than 24 hours after riding 54 bench points to a near-flawless Game 4 victory, the Phoenix Suns held a short practice this morning before taking off to Los Angeles for Game 5. Most of the talk after practice was yet again concerning the Suns’ zone defense and their emphasis on taking away Pau Gasol and the Lakers’ role players, because as head coach Alvin Gentry said, “Stopping Kobe is not an option.”
Since the Suns have implemented the zone they’ve done a terrific job of limiting the role players and forcing LA into shooting 60 three-pointers in the last two games. Lamar Odom (10 points, six rebounds) was a non-factor in Game 3, and Gasol (15 points, five rebounds) was held in check Tuesday night.
Kobe went off for 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in Game 3, but he only took two shots in the fourth quarter thanks to a slight adjustment in the zone, and Gentry was pleased with the way the Suns played him.
“The shots he made we couldn’t do anything about,” he said. “We went back and looked at the tape today and five of the six shots he made in the second quarter, there’s no one in the NBA who could’ve defended them.”
“We weren’t going to put all our effort in trying to stop Kobe, nobody’s done it in 14 years,” Gentry added. “It’s ridiculous to think, ‘OK this is the way you’ll stop him.’ You can’t get 81 points in an NBA game if somebody’s trying to stop you.”
That leaves the Suns with the rest of the Lakers, who have been fairly ineffective against the zone defense. After Game 3 the general consensus seemed to be that you can’t play zone for more than one game without the other team figuring it out. But the Lakers still haven’t found a way to combat it, and their role players still haven’t found a way to be effective.
“I’m believing in (the zone),” said Suns forward. “Stats don’t lie, they’re shooting way more threes in [Games] 3 and 4 than they did in 1 and 2. They got to the free throw line more in 1 and 2 and the zone prevents that. It makes other people shoot the ball or make it seem like they’re open. We’re going to give those shots to Lamar and Artest. It’s not disrespectful to them, it’s just showing more respect to Gasol and Kobe. You have to let other guys beat you.”
The Suns aren’t going to stop — or even limit — Kobe, but if they can continue to use the zone to take away Gasol and company they should be in every game from here on out.