Phoenix Suns: Keys to winning Game 5 vs Lakers

Phoenix Suns, Jae Crowder (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Jae Crowder (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns must not assume what worked in Game 4 will work in Game 5

Game 4 was a statement victory for the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers, whose fanbase prematurely claimed the series was over. I seriously doubt any online chatter from the fans will influence Suns coach Monty Williams in any way. Nevertheless, I hope this Suns fan (and Lakers writer) can influence Coach Williams to make these two crucial adjustments which will put the Suns in a strong position to win Game 5.

After all, it’s one thing for the Phoenix Suns to adjust after a loss. It’s an entirely different thing for them to readjust the game plan in anticipation of the Lakers adjustments.

Due to my experience as a Lakers writer, this particular adjustment might throw the Lakers offense in for a loop like California Adventure’s Incredicoaster!

Phoenix Suns adjustment #1: Run a box-and-one on LeBron James

The Phoenix Suns will have to change their game plan because Lakers power forward Anthony Davis is likely out for Game 5 due to a groin injury suffered in Game 4. LeBron James is going to have to carry the Lakers in AD’s potential absence.

In other news, the sky is blue and it’s set to be 104 degrees tomorrow in Phoenix. We all know LeBron’s going to try to score at least 50 points in this game.

So how can the Suns stop him?

Run a box-and-one! The defense seen more at the youth level did wonders for the Toronto Raptors against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

It worked! Toronto won its first ever NBA Championship! So how would the Phoenix Suns run the defense on LeBron? The Suns would run it similar to how Toronto defended Curry. They would deny LeBron the ball and force the other four Lakers to play 4 on 4. The goal is to stop dribble penetration which would force everyone else besides LeBron to knock down outside shots.

A box and one would ensure at least two defenders are near LeBron when he has the ball in his hands. Given the Lakers are not a good three-point shooting team, the box and one is worth throwing out there as a change-of-pace defense.

A wrinkle to consider: if Chris Paul wants a shot at LeBron, the Suns can adapt to a diamond-and-one defense with Deandre Ayton stationed around the block. The other three players would form a diamond on the perimeter alongside Ayton to give the Lakers a different look within the zone.

Phoenix Suns adjustment #2: Attack the basket in transition

The Phoenix Suns did a GREAT job at pushing the pace for three-pointers in Game 4! Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges (3-8 each) quickly got going because they sprinted to the corners, which got them open three-pointers in rhythm before the Lakers defense could get set.

How did everyone else do from three-point range? A combined 4 for 19, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker a combined 1 for 8. The Suns still won handily even though they weren’t hot from three.

So the Suns cannot assume things will be any different in Game 5! If the threes aren’t falling, then attacking the basket is a must!

The Lakers have the top-ranked defense in the NBA for a very good reason. Their half-court defense is rock solid — they just do not allow a whole lot of made shots. If they have one weakness in an elite defense, it is points in the paint allowed per game (18th out of 30 teams).

Check out Chris Paul blowing by Alex Caruso and finishing at the basket. Notice how Paul attacks Caruso’s right foot and subtly uses his right elbow to maintain separation.

The Point God still has it! If Paul and Booker do not settle for pull-up midrange shots and attack the basket immediately, they’ll have plenty of open layups and/or free-throws. Given Anthony Davis will likely not play Game 5 for the Lakers, there will be no proven shot blockers at the basket to contest them at the rim. Chris Paul and Devin Booker have to sense that and see blood in the water from the opening tip.

Phoenix Suns adjustments: The conclusion

At the end of the day, the Phoenix Suns were assumed to be all-but-eliminated from playoff contention right before Game 4. They cannot assume that the Lakers are down for the count either just because the defending champions had a bad game. They must throw every defense in the book to slow down LeBron James. On offense, Chris Paul and Devin Booker need to aggressively attack the basket early and often.

If these two adjustments are made, I am confident the Phoenix Suns will fly back to Los Angeles with a 3-2 lead and a chance to vanquish the defending champions in Game 6.

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