NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 4: Suns in a different kind of zone but it still means a win


Frye_Bench.jpgPhoenix was in the zone again.

Not the defense… well, they were in that too and it had an impact, but this time it was an offensive zone. There were stretches of Game 4 where it seemed no Sun could miss. The Lakers couldn’t figure them out.

But that offensive zone was really a string of little things that started with the defense, led to open threes for the Suns bench that got hot, and ended with a 115-106 Suns win that has even this series 2-2.

The series everybody had written off as over just a few days ago is now headed to a clash-of-styles Game 5 Thursday in Los Angeles that likely will decide the series.

Phoenix has figured out the little things. The question that remains is can they do this on the road, where their role players struggled and the calls are often not as friendly? You can see in the Suns eyes they think they can.

That confidence starts with the zone defense. The Lakers played better against it, to the tune of 105 points and 49 percent shooting. The Lakers scored, and at times they did what they wanted to do by getting the ball into the teeth of the Suns zone with passes to Pau Gasol in the high post, or off penetration.

But then they’d stop doing it for stretches. They’d take the path of least resistance and just go back to taking threes — they took 28 in this game after taking 32 last game. The Lakers are not a good three point shooting team, and they hit just 32 percent of those threes in Game 4.

That means a lot of long rebounds to fuel the Suns offense. And for the Suns bench, it was like rocket fuel. The Suns bench had 54 points (to the Lakers 20) on 62.5 percent shooting. The Suns took those rebounds and were off to the races — the Suns had 40 second quarter points largely fueled by those missed shots becoming Suns shots before the Lakers could get back and set their defense. They could not miss — even Channing Frye, who was 0-16 before this game, finished 4 of 8 from
three. The same thing happened in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers had tied the game but the Suns pulled away on three consecutive threes, two of them off missed Lakers shots.

“What was disappointing for me is the fact we took five threes in that sequence of action where they made up the ground when we took the lead in the fourth quarter,” Phil Jackson said in a televised interview on NBA TV after the game.

The chance to get out and run made the Suns the aggressors. Again. Phoenix made 22 free throws on 32 attempts, the Lakers were 7 of 13. The reason was not the referees, it was that the Lakers were settling for jumpers while the Suns were attacking. Further evidence of that, the Suns had 18 offensive rebounds.

Phoenix also exploited Andrew Bynum, who is clearly hurting. The Suns had Bynum’s man — Robin Lopez or Amare Stoudemire — come out and set the high screen for Steve Nash because Bynum was not mobile enough to slow Nash and recover to his man rolling toward the basket. Stoudemire finished with 21 points.

Kobe tried to take control himself, and he put on an impressive display of shooting on his way to 38 points (he hit 15 of 22 shots and was 6 of 9 from three). But late in the game the Suns started sending kamikaze double teams at him to get the ball out of his hands (same with Gasol) — let anyone else try to beat them, but not Kobe. It worked. The Lakers took threes and missed them.

Jackson said after the game he was fine with the Lakers offense, it was the defense that bothered him. But the two were interrelated — the Suns aggressiveness in their zone forced the Lakers into bad shot selections that fueled the Suns offense the Lakers couldn’t stop. It was more mental than physical, Kobe said.

“I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone, I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively,” Bryant said in his televised interview. “Our focus was on the other end of the floor, which doesn’t win championships.”

If the Lakers are going to win a championship — or even compete for one in the Finals — they need to get that defensive attention back.

The Suns, on the other hand, need to keep riding the zone and the three point shooting. Their offense is a beautiful and powerful thing when unleashed. And right now, that storm is blowing the Lakers out of the way, much like the Lakers did to them in the first two games.

Game five Thursday night is going to be a fascinating clash of styles.

Gordon Hayward goes behind Jordan Clarkson’s back with dribble

Gordon Hayward, Nick Young
1 Comment

Utah’s Gordon Hayward abused the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson on this play.

First, Hayward reads and steals Clarkson’s poor feed into the post intended for Kobe Bryant, then going up the sideline he takes his dribble behind Clarkson’s back to keep going. It all ends in a Rudy Gobert dunk.

Three quick takeaways here:

1) Gordon Hayward is a lot better than many fans realize. He can lead this team.

2) It’s still all about the development with Clarkson, and that’s going to mean some hard lessons.

3) Hayward may have the best hair in the NBA, even if it’s going a bit Macklemore.

(Hat tip reddit)

Could Tristan Thompson’s holdout last months? Windhorst says yes.

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five

VIZZINI: “So, it is down to you. And it is down to me.”
MAN IN BLACK nods and comes nearer…
MAN IN BLACK: “Perhaps an arrangement can be reached.”
VIZZINI: “There will be no arrangement…”
MAN IN BLACK: “But if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”

That farcical scene from The Princess Bride pretty much sums up where we are with the Tristan Thompson holdout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, minus the Iocane powder. (Although that scene was a battle of wits in the movie and this process seems to lack much wit.) The Cavaliers have put a five-year, $80 million offer on the table. Thompson wants a max deal (or at least a more than has been offered), but he also doesn’t want to play for the qualifying offer and didn’t sign it. LeBron James just wants the two sides just to get it done.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN thinks LeBron could be very disappointed.

Windhorst was on the Zach Lowe podcast at Grantland (which you should be listening to anyway) and had this to say about the Thompson holdout:

“I actually believe it will probably go months. This will go well into the regular season.”

Windhorst compared it to a similar situation back in 2007 with Anderson Varejao, which eventually only broke because the then Charlotte Bobcats signed Varejao to an offer sheet. Thompson is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer, but only Portland and Philadelphia have the cap space right now to offer him a max contract. Neither team has shown any interest in doing so.

And so we wait. And we may be waiting a while.