Tag: Phoenix Suns zone

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 5: Forget the bright shiny offenses, this one is all about the defense


Kobe_suns.jpgIt’s not about Kobe Bryant seemingly scoring at will this series. Or Pau Gasol in the post. It’s not about Amare Stoudemire or the awakening of the Suns bench.

It’s about defense — that is what has decided every game in this series up to now, it is what will decide Game 5 tonight at Staples Center. The winner Thursday probably wins the whole shootin’ match in the West. This is huge.

In the first two games, the Lakers defense took away the Suns easy baskets on the pick-and-roll. Lakers guards fought over the top of the pick, the big men showed out and other Lakers stayed at home on the three-point shooters. The Lakers took away the dribble penetration that the Suns thrive on and forced them to be jump shooters, and while the Suns are a good jump shooting team they hit less of those than dunks. Or open threes.

But that changed in Games 3 and 4, as did the Suns defense.

The Suns zone defense has gotten a lot of publicity, but it really hasn’t stopped the Lakers from scoring — particularly in Game 4, when the Lakers were putting up points at a high level.

But the zone has dictated how those points have come, and with that the flow of the games. The Lakers launched 60 three pointers in the last two games, and they are not a good outside shooting team. This led to a lot of long rebounds and the chance for the Suns to get easy baskets in transition. The Lakers scored, but the Suns defense helped them score much more.

If the Suns can again keep the Lakers from getting their points at the rim — turning the Lakers into jump shooters like LA is trying to do to them — they will get those same break chances, those same easy points and maybe the same wins.

Kobe is going to get his, but will he get any help from teammates this time around who stop shooting outside and start driving inside? Can Nash and Stoudemire keep getting their shots at the rim, keep exposing the slow rotations of an injured Andrew Bynum?

The answer to one of those questions will be yes, because they will have figured out the other team’s defense. Whichever team’s defense hold firm will win Game 5. And maybe have earned a trip to the Finals.

Winderman: Real men do play zone. Because it works.


Kobe_Frye.jpgReal men, of course, don’t play zone.

It is why the Suns’ gimmickry was derided by the Lakers after Game 4 as inconsequential to why the Western Conference finals are now tied 2-2.

It is why Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn and now Wes Johnson enter the NBA seemingly needed to be reprogrammed from Jim Boeheim’s wretched ways.

And yet, during a quiet moment, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy couldn’t help but grin about the whole fuss.

Yes, he, too, disdains the approach. But in speaking with his brother, he said the two coaches consistently came to the same conclusion when the opposition sprung a zone: confusion, temporary loss of cohesion.

No, nothing like the scale we’ve seen from the Lakers this past week, but a very tangible sense of perplexity.

For years, Phoenix has been the NBA’s test kitchen, from “seven seconds or less” to this unyielding preponderance of playoff zone.

How ironic that a state that has come under fire for its restrictive social policy continues to serve as the NBA’s most progressive party?

So where does it go from here? If the Suns do somehow manage to spoil Celtics-Lakers, will there be copycats awaiting next season?

Don’t kid yourself, there already are.

Among the reasons the Heat managed to finish second in the league in both defensive scoring average and defensive field-goal percentage was a liberal dose of zone. Just go through that roster and try to find a single defensive stopper (and don’t try to equate Dwyane Wade’s steals and blocks to man-on-man deterrence).

Former NBA coach Don Casey, who quite literally wrote the book on the approach, Temple of Zones, argued for years that the league needed to open its mind to the possibilities.

“Many people felt the zone is a poor-man’s way of teaching defense, that it slows down the game, it’s harmful,” Casey told me in an interview a while back. “They’re wrong on both counts. It’s the inability of the offenses to attack them in a proper way. Hence it looks like it’s a slowdown game.

“When I first came into the league, as a college guy, I had played a zone. As time went on, I kind of agreed with them, that the stand-around approach (of a zone), it just may not be good for the game. But if it’s taught properly, it’s an aggressive defense and it can be played very well and it can be attacked very well.”

No one is suggesting Alvin Gentry had any back-to-the-future thoughts in mind when desperation prevailed after Game 2 of a series that appeared headed to a sweep.

But this nonetheless stands as a wakeup call, that there are other ways, that what’s old can become new again.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.