NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 3: The Suns get in the zone and suddenly it looks like a series

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stoudemire_Odom.jpgSaturday in practice, Suns coach Alvin Gentry was not happy. He wanted to run some more zone but the Suns were playing it worse than they had in the first two games. Which was hard to do because they had been terrible at it in those games and the Lakers had carved it up.

“To be honest with you guys, in practice yesterday it was the worst it has ever been,” Gentry said in a post-game interview shown on NBATV. “I got really upset because I didn’t think it was very good at all. When (the Lakers) started the game making a ton of shots we said, ‘well, we’ve got to give it a try’ and we got some stops.”

The Lakers shot just 4 of 21 against the zone in the second quarter. The Lakers who had shot 58 percent in the first two games shot 48 percent in this game, largely because of the zone. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking Amare Stoudemire and the Suns won Game 3 118-109.

If the zone works again in Game 4 on Tuesday, the series will head back to Los Angeles tied (Lakers lead 2-1 now).

The Lakers came out settling more for their jump shots even before the zone came in, but they hit them. That is why they led after one quarter 32-29. Then Phoenix went to the zone and the Lakers put up just 15 points in the second quarter as their outside shots stopped falling. That should be expected — the Lakers are not a great outside or three point shooting team, just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc on the season (23rd in the league). The only guy hitting shots was Kobe Bryant, who had 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting.

Usually against the zone the Lakers still try to go inside, with bigs flashing into the high post, they did a little of that in the second half, but they still settled enough to take 32 threes, making just nine. In two of the three Lakers losses this postseason, they have taken more than 30 threes.

“I think we figured (the zone) out in the third quarter, but we didn’t figure out defensively what we had to do,” Jackson said in his televised interview.

While the Lakers settled, the Suns attacked. Phoenix had 42 free throw attempts — sorry Lakers fans, that had nothing to do with the officiating and everything to do with the Suns taking the ball the rim. Stoudemire had Andrew Bynum — a clearly slowed and hurting Bynum — in quick foul trouble. His replacement, Lamar Odom, ended up fouling out.

For the first time in this series, the pressure shifts to the Lakers to adjust — to use actions in the triangle offense to better exploit the zone they will certainly see next game. Jackson has two handfuls of rings because he knows how to make playoff adjustments. But if the Suns zone can force the Lakers into jumpshooters again, this series could end up tied.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.