When I picked the Suns in six, there was a lot of assumptions I (naturally) made. The one that's proven most false was that the Suns would be able to somewhat contain Kobe Bryant. So far, not so much containing of the Kobe is going on. He's been truly amazing so far despite all my hoping and wishing that eventually he will stop hitting contested jump shots at such an incredibly efficient rate.
55.7% from two. 46% from three. 9.7 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game. Amazing and significantly better than he's played all season and that has nothing to do with the Suns. That's Kobe being great.
The Suns have done the best they can with the Mamba and have shown incredible resilience in the face of his irresistible play. They stayed together and stuck with the game plan on the offensive end and in the process have decimated the Lakers defense.
Kobe understands this as well as anyone, "We've got to do a better job defensively, period."
That's the only post-game quote that matters. That simple truth.
The Suns, as they have all postseason, have been successful on the offensive end because they play team ball. They get the most out the players they have and, more than any other group, can respond both tactically and with different personnel to whatever opponents try to do to stop them.
In Game 3, the Lakers were afraid of the Suns three-point shooting, so unlike the Spurs and Blazers before them, they extended their defense and stayed home on the shooters. Amare wrecked havoc in the lane and decimated that already thin Laker front line with foul trouble.
42 Amare points and a 118-109 defeat later, Phil Jackson switched things up to start Game 4.
In the first half, he stayed home on Amare and dared the Suns to hit long range shots. 8 for 16 from three by the half made him change that tune and so in the third quarter, it was back to defending the three-point line and Amare went to work.
The Suns only had 21 points in the 3rd but more importantly Amare (6) and Nash (4) led their team back to the free throw line. The Suns' 12 FTAs in the 3rd doubled the 6 for the entire first half.
Jackson might have been feeling good going into the fourth down only one point, but the Suns then did something they've done numerous times this season. The Goran Dragic-led bench came in and attacked a weary team in an entirely different way.
A defense that had adjusted to the Nash/Stoudemire attack was suddenly faced with the relentless two-headed speed demons in Goran and Leandro, who were able to penetrate the Lakers from the perimeter and force the defense to collapse.
You can forget about guarding the three-point line when those two are driving and kicking. Add to that a scrappy defensive effort and there was just no way for the tired Lakers starters to keep up with the second wave of Suns intensity. That is how you end up with a 17 to 5 advantage on the glass in only 12 minutes of play.
Team basketball. Fresh legs. Guys that aren't playing for individual glory or to avoid Kobe's wrath. The Suns are a team that plays hard for each other and if you believe in such things, that will overcome a team that is playing out of fear of failure.
Tonight the Suns only shot 37% from three, hitting 11 of 30 compared to 9 of 28 for the Lakers. Those six extra points were not the difference in the game.
The Suns were 32 to 42 points in the paint and despite being +5 on the offensive glass only had 1 more second chance point. The Lakers even shot the ball better than the Suns, 49.5% - 48.8%.
Those offensive rebounds at least kept the ball out of the Lakers hands and the 14 to 4 advantage on the defensive glass in the fourth quarter was where the game was won. Lou Amundson had 6 of those 14 and personified the Suns real advantage in this series. The Suns were able to maintain 48 minutes of constant effort that the three-man rotation of Bynum, Gasol and Odom were not able to match.
So tonight, the story was of a team. A group of guys that love each other, that run through walls for each other, that gladly sacrifice their minutes and individual stats for the great glory of winning. And while the Kobe Bryants of the universe might be wired such that winning is all they know, this Suns team is wired collectively to succeed for each other.
It is the communal David beating the individual Goliaths.
The series is now tied at 2 all and guaranteed at worst, the Suns will have made this a long series and have bounced back from two tough beatings to earn the respect of their peers, fans and media. There is nothing that can happen from here on in that can take away from what's been accomplished so far.
At yet there's only two more wins to get to the NBA finals. 17 years after the 1993 team who followed 17 years after the 1976 team. Destiny awaits.
The Lakers are still the bigger team. Their other guys have shot the ball very well at home and they still have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to carry them.
But the Suns have shown continued improvement as the series has progressed and their depth should become more of a factor as the schedule now moves to an every other day affair. Might Kobe actually start to tire and shoot his team out of a win? Can Gasol and Odom manage to play at a high-level, given the responsibility they carry? Or perhaps, just maybe, they will be just a tiny bit satisfied having already won their rings and give the Suns just enough of an edge to continue this impossible Phoenix Suns run.
I can't wait to find out.
Oh and one person who does not fear Kobe Bryant: "Yeah, he's a great player -- one of the best players in NBA -- but I am not, how do you say, I'm not afraid of him." - Goran Dragic.
Here's what Team Suns looks like. Great video from Suns.com