Let’s just be up front — Phoenix is not going to zone their way to a win tonight.
Oh, they can still win, but they will have to do it another way. They will have to maintain that aggression and quick decision making on offense. They will have to crash the boards hard again. They will need to slow the Lakers big men again, somehow.
But the zone, that isn’t going to work twice. There is a reason NBA teams don’t run a zone as their base defense — at this level teams have too many good a shooters from the outside for a zone to work long term, and they are often too big and strong inside for it to work.
But it did work against the Lakers when the Suns went to it in Game 3. It worked great for one quarter — the second, when the Lakers scored just 15 points and shot 35 percent overall and 17 percent from three. In the fourth quarter the Lakers kept going bombs away on the zone — Pau Gasol had one fourth-quarter shot while the Lakers took 11 threes.
But the Lakers know how to attack a zone, remember that in the first two games of this series the Lakers chewed up the Suns zone and spit it out quickly. Lakers bigs will flash to the free throw line get the ball while wing players will cut down the baseline, and the Suns defenders will have to pick their poison. The Lakers will also attack the zone with dribble penetration. Ron Artest will not be bombing threes like that again. Well, Phil Jackson hopes not.
For the Suns, they have to keep attacking like they did in Game 3. Steve Nash’s preferred mode is to come off the pick and then probe your defense until he finds a space he likes. The Lakers long arms took those spaces away for two games. In Game 3 it wasn’t just Amare Stoudemire who was more aggressive, it was Nash. He made quick decisions, often hitting Stoudemire rolling to the basket.
Amare went hard to the basket. The Suns also used Stoudemire — and a shockingly effective version of Robin Lopez — to isolate on Lakers big men and use their quickness. Both Suns bigs were very aggressive and effective, and they will need to be again. If the Lakers control the paint, they will control the game.
The Suns problems this series have not been scoring, it has been on the defensive end. They solved that problem for one game, but they are going to need to find a new way to solve it in Game 4, because the old zone gimmick is not going to work. If the Suns can’t figure it out, well, bet the over because this one will be fun to watch. But it also will be coming back to Los Angeles with a chance for the Lakers to close it out.