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Lakers step up defense to beat Suns in Game 3

 


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| Apr. 28, 2007

lakers beat suns in game 3Forget Kobe Bryant's 45 points. Or Kwame Brown's surprising 19 points.

Or Lamar Odom's 18 points and 16 rebounds.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns Thursday night, 95-89, because of their defense.

At least for the final three quarters.

In the first 12 minutes, Phoenix appeared impeccable on the offensive end, building a 17-point lead before taking a 31-17 advantage into the second period. The Lakers - and their fans - appeared as dead as the Orlando Magic, who had fallen earlier in the night to the Pistons to go down 3-0 in their best-of-seven series.

But then something happened.

I'm not exactly sure what motivated it. But that's not really the point.

What matters is that the Lakers started swarming Steve Nash when he had the ball. Smush Parker and little-used Shammond Williams had one job: stay in Nash*s grill. The Lakers* big men hedged every pick-and-roll, not allowing Nash to penetrate and keeping their hands up so he couldn't zip a pass to his cutting big man.

All of a sudden, he wasn't nearly the threat he usually is. He made a couple incredible passes - he's Steve Nash, after all - but for the most part was stifled by the Lakers' D. While Nash still dished out 13 assists, he turned the ball over an uncharacteristic five times. And he didn't get many opportunities to score, contributing a meek 10 points.

The Lakers slowly crept back into the game through their defense, taking the lead late in the third quarter and never letting Phoenix take it back (although the Suns tied the game late on a Leandro Barbosa 3-pointer).

Phoenix's night on offense was epitomized by a drive by Barbosa late in the game, when he wildly threw up a reverse layup, which was easily swatted away by Brown. There was no flow to the Suns' offense. They didn't get out on the fastbreak much, scoring just 10 points in transition.

Their half-court offense was exposed.

The Lakers' big men showed their toughness Thursday, outrebounding Phoenix 44-35, including 19 offensive boards, which was a big reason why they won despite shooting a mediocre 42 percent compared to 48 percent shooting by the Suns. The Lakers showed that when the game is played in the half court, they can stick with the Suns. Brown and Odom outscored Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion 37-34 and outrebounded them 22-14.

That, coupled with Bryant outscoring Nash, Barbosa and Raja Bell 45-39 equaled a six-point Lakers win.

Now comes the nationally televised ABC game on Sunday afternoon. Another game the Lakers need to win to stay alive in the series. And questions abound.

With the spotlight on them, will the Lakers continue to play the swarming defense they used on Thursday night? Or will the bright lights lure them into a more finesse game, which plays into the hands of the Suns?

I clearly remember the last time these teams played on a Sunday afternoon in the playoffs. It was Game 4 a year ago, when two great defensive plays by the Lakers helped them first tie the game at the end of regulation, then win it on a jumper by Bryant at the end of overtime.

The formula holds true a year later. It all starts on the defensive end for the Lakers.

Other insights

Was anyone else shocked when during the fourth quarter of Detroit's 93-77 win over Orlando, the aging Chris Webber stripped the ball from young stalwart Dwight Howard under Orlando's basket and subsequently was mugged by Howard?

Howard is probably the second strongest player in the NBA behind Shaquille O'Neal. Yet Webber snatched the ball right out of his hands.

It was a perfect representation of what kind of night it was for both players.

Howard scored a mere 11 points while Webber poured in 15.

There is no way Orlando will win Game 4 if Howard gets outscored by Webber again (and even if Howard erupts for 30, I don't see the Magic winning).

Detroit's acquisition of Webber has paid huge dividends I'm sure GM Joe Dumars didn't even anticipate. Webber is no longer the athletic specimen he was five years ago, but he's extremely savvy in finding his teammates for easy shot opportunities.

And he can score... and show a little strength.

As he showed Thursday night.

Just like the arrival of Rasheed Wallace sparked Detroit to the championship in 2004, Webber's homecoming - he's from Detroit - might turn out to be the key to another title run.



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