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Two championships playing a lot of zone defense qualifies Diana Taurasi and Coach Gaines as experts.
With all this talk about the Suns "girly" zone, who better to ask than two-time WNBA champion and winner of countless other awards and titles, Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury?
Taurasi knows an awful lot about zone defense both from her time playing overseas, where the zone is much more commonly employed, and with the Mercury, who frequently use a modified version of the 2-3 zone.
"I don't see anything 'girly' about it. That's why I think the US has so many problems internationally because you actually have to play real basketball where the rules can't help you as far as spacing, with no one in the lane for more than 3 seconds. I mean these are all rules that make the game easier for the offense. When you actually have to think and make the extra pass, basketball gets really hard."
So Taurasi, a California girl and Lakers fan herself, is basically calling out her home-town team for their inability to play "real basketball".
Mercury head coach Corey Gaines is a former point guard with the New York Knicks and a guy who played overseas for a lot of years. He knows how to beat the zone as well as anyone, as evidenced by his team's recent barrage of three-point shots against the Tulsa Shock when they tried it against his team on Tuesday.
Gaines was quick to point out his team is loaded with excellent shooters (Taurasi and Taylor) and they tied the WNBA record for threes in a game (16) by quickly attacking the zone before it could get set and then kicking out for the open shot.
The Lakers did not do this in Games 3 or 4, perhaps because they were afraid of upping the tempo even more or perhaps because they just didn't have the personnel to employ this strategy. According to Gaines, NBA and WNBA teams alike have devalued shooting as a fundamental skill over the past decades and, as a result, he doesn't see why the zone can't be effective.
Gaines explains another way to beat the zone that the Lakers haven't used enough, "They haven't used many pick and rolls against it. Pick and rolls hurt zones because it makes someone come to the ball, come up, and as a person sets a pick, they dive. The who person sets it dives to the middle and there's a big gap in the middle of the floor and now the ball can either be shot or skipped to the other side and you can't recover."
The most important thing for the Suns to do with the zone is trust it and believe in it and not lose confidence, "They're going to hit a couple of shots, but don't get out of the zone. What happens in the NBA if I remember from when I played, you play the zone and as soon as somebody hits two or one jumper, oh get out of it. So they don't hit any jumpers against man (defense)? You get out off your man? You've got to stick with it. You've got to go with what you've been going with and not jump ship on something."
Asked about the obvious negative connotation that comes with using the term "girly" to describe the zone, Taurasi rolled with it, "It is (pejorative), but that's just America. As forward as we think we are, we're still in a mid-century way of thinking in a lot of ways and a lot of times."
Gaines added, "They said the same thing about us and we won two championships with it."