All I can say about this team is ... wow. After having been so handily beaten by the defending world champs, it looked as if the Phoenix Suns were about ready to roll over and let the Lake Show win the series. Amar'e wasn't rebounding. Channing Frye couldn't buy a bucket. The Los Angeles bench was putting up better numbers than the Suns' bench, the supposed "difference makers" this season.
All seemed to be going the Lakers' way, but something changed. I'm not sure if Coach Gentry ripped into them, if it was playing in front of a wildly passionate home crowd, or if the Suns finally decided enough was enough, but the Suns came out in Game 3 and played like we knew they could. This was the team that could knock off the defending champs and earn a Finals berth. These were the Suns Unquantifiable.
Perhaps more importantly, this was the kind of effort that convinced everyone on the team that they could really do it.
Now, the Suns have evened up the series at 2-2, which seemed nearly impossible with the way the first two games had played out. However, this isn't a complete swing of momentum. It may be a surge of faith or a boost of confidence, but there are two huge hurdles in the way: these are still the defending world champions, and there are still a possible two games left to play in Los Angeles to one game in Phoenix.
It's not even a steep hill that the Suns will have to climb in order to win this series. It's a veritable mountain.
Continued Faith in the Bench
If there is one thing I admire Coach Gentry for (and there are many), it's his faith in using the bench. Sure, if the game is tight in the fourth quarter, he'll opt to bring a starter in earlier than usual, but in past seasons, the common Suns fan would never have seen the reserves getting as much burn as they have this season.
Even with Channing Frye mired in the worst shooting slump of his career when it matters the absolute most, Gentry still told him to go out there and have faith that the shots will fall. It happened.
When Goran Dragic has looked timid and unsure with his decisions, he still got the message from the coach to go out and continue attacking, that mistakes aren't the end of the world. He is doing just that.
With Jared Dudley hitting all five of his threes in a losing effort, only to miss both of his attempts from range and shoot 1-4 from the field overall in the very next game, Dudley could have easily hit a cold streak but Gentry remained steadfast in his resolve to keep Dudley on the floor, and the Junkyard Dog came through and shined in the Game 4 victory.
I could go on, but I'll spare you my adoration of the Suns' bench. I will say this, though: confidence in these young players is an absolute must, and when Alvin Gentry could have thrown in the towel for the bench, he stuck with it. Will it earn him a chance to compete for the Larry O'Brien trophy? Who knows. Does it speak measures for the coach's character and willingness to stick with what won his team 54 games in the regular season? Absolutely.
Send a Message
The Lakers are likely going to be viewing this as a "statement game". Is it a must win game? No. Could they still come back and beat the Suns if they lose? Absolutely. However, if the Lakers pound the Suns into the ground from the opening tip until the final buzzer, the message will be sent: this is our house, this is our title run, and you can't do anything to stop it.
Unless the Suns swoop in first and send a message of their own.
The Suns have proven on multiple occasions this season that they are capable of winning "statement games", some even as recently as Game 3 of this Western Conference Finals. We know the Suns are no stranger to doubt. I will assure you that everyone who doesn't have a soft spot for the purple and orange will be betting on the Lakers. And that's okay. The Suns know how to step it up. We just have to wait and see if they can do it on one of the brightest stages they'll ever be on.
Keys to the Game
- Continue the defensive simplicity. I hate the saying "Let Kobe get his", because it's not that simple. However, whatever the Suns have done defensively against the Lakers during the two game homestand, it's worked. Whether that's getting the super efficient Pau Gasol less touches or throwing Phil Jackson's famed Triangle Offense out of whack, I suggest we keep it up.
- Don't back down. The Staples Center crowd is going to be rowdy as ever, and the Lakers players want to come out and send a message. This is the time for the Phoenix Suns to show up, ready to enter the ring with the defending heavyweight champion of the world.
- Play the game of basketball. Phil Jackson, a notorious trash talker, can try to implement mind games and attempt to throw off his competition. Kobe Bryant might blame both losses on himself and promise that everything will change. Lamar Odom can say the Suns have simply gotten lucky. The most important thing the Suns can do right now is ignore everything the media or doubters might say, and simply come out and play some ball.
- Get Channing open from deep. Channing Frye, a complete no call-no show in Games 1, 2 and 3 finally found his stroke, and proved to be a difference maker in Game 4. Getting him open and letting him hit a few threes would do wonders for the Suns' chances in Game 5.
- Play some Bully Ball. Amar'e was an absolute beast in Game 3. He left his mark on Game 4, but it was the bench that took the spotlight. I'd like to see a fusion of what we saw in both games, but Amar'e needs to come out in attack mode like he did in Game 3. Fouls + Lakers big men = very good things for the Suns.