Hey, did you see that? The Suns actually played like maybe they cared! And Alvin actually (gasp!) made some adjustments! Having suffered through the first two crap games of this series, it was surely refreshing to watch a game in which one of the participants decided not to just roll over and get spanked.
So what was the difference? Well, there were several things, of course, but it begins and ends with Amar’e. Here’s what he did in the first two games combined:
41 pts, 9 rebs, 15-29 from the floor.
Amar’e in Game 3:
42 pts, 11 rebs, 14-22 shooting
In addition, Amar’e's aggressive play set the tone for the entire team–they all played much more aggressively in this game than they did in either of the first two games. This was made evident by one statistic especially…the Suns shot FORTY-TWO free throws on the night. Now, granted, several of those came at the end of the game when the Lakers wanted to slow things down. But 42 free throws? Now that’s aggression. The kind of aggression that gets the Suns a padload of easy points and the Lakers in some foul trouble. I mean, you can talk all you want about whether or not Andrew Bynum is effective or not (he’s not) and whether he should get any more minutes than he has (hey, I’m all for it, but I would like the Lakers to lose)…but 4 fouls in 7:31 probably isn’t gonna earn him any more time.
(And while we’re talking about Bynum, I’d just like to go on the record as saying that Bryan Colangelo would have to be eighteen different kinds of stupid to even consider taking Bynum back from the Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal for Bosh. Bynum not only sucks, but he is fragile as all get out. The Raptors, if that was their only option [and it's certainly not], would be better off letting Bosh go for nothing than paying Bynum to either be bad or sit on the bench in a suit.)
The other big change was Alvin actually making a big coaching move by going to–and sticking with–the zone defense. The Lakers had a big first quarter against the man defense, and started out doing well against the zone. But the Suns kept hounding them with it, forcing the outside shots and denying penetration, and–HEY!–it worked like a charm! The Lakers shot something like 12% against the zone. I don’t have the exact number in front of me, but I think that was it. And for the game, they only shot 48%, down from the 86-or-so% they’d shot in games one and two.
The last change? Robin Lopez finally looking game-ready. As Prof. Hollinger points out here, the Suns are now able to dominate inside with the effectiveness of Mr. Brownsound and the ineffectiveness of Bynum. Lopez also adds a little spice to the whole arrangement, evidenced by his little back-and-forth with “good guy” Derek Fisher. Oh, and can we talk for just a second about how Derek Fisher is not the super-nice, super-good guy that everybody seems to want him to be? Aside from his unnecessary aggression on the play where Nash broke his nose (not dirty, but surely not necessary), he had a straight-up dirty play against Amar’e, injuring him. He shoved his hands straight into Amar’e's goggles, then pushed up against his face and went into the arms-straight-up-into-the-air-I-didn’t-do-anything pose. That’s a dirty play right there, people.
So tonight, the Suns need to be prepared to do one thing and one thing only: more of the same. More aggression, more zone (don’t let the Lakers psych you out by calling it “gimmicky.” If it works, it works, and there ain’t no two ways about it), more Lopez, more smart coaching. Do that and this baby’s all tied up.