NBA basketball, she is a fickle beast. After two games spent pounding the Phoenix Suns on the Staples Center floor, a completely one-sided affair appeared in the making for the Lakers. You figured Phoenix would steal one on their court, but the combination of size, defense and Kobe Bryant seemed way too much for the desert dwellers. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry was literally asking the media for suggestions.
That, of course, was before a now infamous zone defense, an Amare Stoudemire awakening and a bench showing for the ages. Cut to a Game 5 Phil Jackson labeled "critical" for either squad.
As I mentioned during our postgame report, the game felt to me like a showdown between Kobe Bryant and the Suns bench. The Lakers were a discombobulated bunch, leaving Kobe to attempt saving the day against a crew running on all cylinders. Even worse, his mates didn't pick up any slack on the other side of the ball, which left 24 seriously honked. ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin explains how Kobe's tired of all this "zone" chatter. From his perspective, the problem was definitely defense, but rather his own team's:
Kobe Bryant walked up to the postgame podium after the Los Angeles Lakers' 115-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday and launched into a diatribe, pounding away at his point so often that even the dude from "Memento" wouldn't need a tattoo to remember the gist of it. Bryant didn't care about how well he played. His brilliance was rendered irrelevant by his team's lack of defense.Mention No. 1: "Our defense could have been much better, I think."
That's how the speech started, and really, that's how the Lakers' chances of making the sun set on Phoenix's season with a commanding 3-1 series lead ended. Los Angeles let the Suns shoot 48.8 percent from the field, make 11 3-pointers and get to the foul line for 32 attempts.
The result is a Western Conference finals series tied 2-2, with the series headed back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Thursday.
While some may quibble about how well the Lakers are actually negotiating Phoenix's zone (the K Bros would, if nothing else), Kobe's correct in calling for a better lockdown. As ESPNLA.com's Ramona Shelburne explains, this is one seriously potent scoring the Lakers are trying to slow:
"We're not seven seconds or less anymore," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after Tuesday's victory. "But in our offense, if you're open and you don't shoot, it's really the same thing as shooting a bad shot. Our offense has a flow to it and that's the way we play."
That flow is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Points, shooting percentage and 3-pointers-made tell just part of the story. When Phoenix is flowing, especially at home, the other team can hear it. The ringing in their ears, the pounding in their hearts as they race up and down the court, trying to stop water from running downhill.
One part of the game flows to the next, each part growing louder and more intense the longer it roars. At it's running, gunning, 3-point-loving best, the Suns' offense is like watching Brazil samba its way around a slow, defensive-minded European team on the soccer field. The court is spread, defenders are forced to chase, and there is always and open man."
Mike Bresnahan: Los Angeles Times
Matt Calkins: Press-Enterprise
Pau Coro: Arizona Republic
Kevin Ding: The Orange County Register
Elliott Teaford: Los Angeles Daily news
Broderick Turner (LAT): The Suns are feeling good about themselves heading back to L.A.
Bob Young (AR): Amare ain't conceding nothing in this series.
BLOGS AND COLUMNS
J.A. Adande (ESPN.com): Channing Frye picked the right time to remember how to shoot a basketball.
Vincent Bonsignore (LADN): 3-for-all for the Suns!
Chris Broussard/Marc Stein (ESPN.com): PJ says he has no desire to coach the Bulls.
C.A. Clark (Silver Screen and Roll): Was this a case of entitlement rearing its ugly head for the Lakers?
Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com): The Lakers can't solve this pesky zone D.
Jeff Metcalfe (AR): Lamar Odom joins Kobe in criticizing the purple and gold D.
Bill Plaschke (LAT): The Laker bench was the Bizarro-version of Phoenix's.
Seth Pollack (Bright Side of the Sun): Our frequent blog exchange amigo saw this game in similar terms.
Marc Spears (Yahoo!): More on the Suns bench.
Darius Soriano (Forum Blue and Gold): Like many Lakers loyalists, this game left Soriano in a foul mood.