PHOENIX -- After Game 3, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said that he was reluctant to use zone against the Lakers because his bench completely destroyed his starters when they ran it. When the zone worked against the Lakers’ starters in Game 3, Gentry may have realized that it wasn’t that the zone was ineffective, but that his bench was just playing better basketball than the Lakers’ starting unit.
They certainly played that way on Tuesday, completely outperforming L.A.’s starting five in the Suns’ 115-106 Game 4 victory at US Airways Center. In a rare postseason move, Gentry left all his starters on the bench in the fourth period, substituting starter Steve Nash back into the contest with just 3:05 left on the clock.
“I thought (the reserves) were much better defensively than they were offensively, and I thought they were great offensively,” Gentry said. “We like to try to get to the seven minute mark, then we put Steve and those guys back in. To tell you the truth, they were going so well we've done it before where we hadn't put the starters back in.”
The Suns’ reserves started the fourth period on an 18-3 run and held the Lakers’ to their lowest-scoring quarter of the game. Lakers star Kobe Bryant was nearly held scoreless the entire fourth period, sinking his first bucket of the quarter with just 1:38 left in the game.
Suns forward Grant Hill, who said that it’s the bench he’s played with in his 15 years in the NBA, believes that it comes down to the confidence Gentry instills in the reserves.
“Alvin envisioned them having the opportunity to play a lot of minutes,” Hill said. “Most teams don’t play their bench like that. If they struggle or if they don’t hit shots, they go right back to their starters.
“Alvin, all season, has been consistent. They know they’re going to play and they know they’re going to have a chance to show their stuff.”
For the game, the Suns’ bench outscored the Lakers’ subs 54-20. However, they made their imprint much earlier in the contest.
The first quarter was a back-and-forth battle that saw Phoenix shoot just 39 percent for the period. But the Suns did set the tone with their aggressiveness, outrebounding the taller Lakers 6-0 on the offensive glass and beating them to every loose ball.
The second unit took over from there, shaking off a poor Game 3 to provide its customary spark in the second period. Goran Dragic drove to the basket with his usual ferocity, setting up Louis Amundson for two dunks, as well as finishing at the rim himself.
The reserves extended their lead over the Lakers to 10 on a barrage of threes from Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. It was the story was waiting to be told all series.
From the outset of the series, the Suns’ greatest mismatch appeared to be the disparity between the two benches. However, the Lakers’ reserves have provided good minutes throughout the series, especially Lamar Odom.
However, in Game 4, the Suns poured in 41 points in the second period, with the reserves shooting 12-for-17 in the quarter. Frye, who was an ice-cold 1-for-20 for the series, was the Suns’ leading scorer in the first half, notching 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown.
“When Channing hit his first 3, the crowd went out of control,” Stoudemire said. “And that just carried the momentum over.”
It was particularly relieving for Frye, who finished the night with 14 points, six rebounds, a steal and a block.
“He’s someone who is all about confidence,” Dudley said about Frye. “I could see him next game go 4-for-5 from three with no pressure. That’s how he is - once he sees the ball go in the basket - there’s no telling what he can do.”
The Suns went into halftime leading by nine, which was a prosperous omen for the club. Coming into Game 4, Phoenix was 8-0 when leading at the half in the playoffs.
The zone continued to hamper everyone but Kobe Bryant, who erupted for 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on 15-of-22 shooting from the field.
“It feels good to be playing this well in something that we haven’t put a whole lot of time into,” Amundson said about the zone. “It’s effective because they’re not getting inside to their big guys Pau (Gasol) and (Andrew) Bynum. We’re keeping it on the perimeter, we’re hustling, we’re getting out to shooters and we’re making them take long jump shots.”
But despite the zone, the Lakers chipped away at the lead in the third, with Bryant scoring 16 in the period. However, Amar’e Stoudemire countered Bryant’s outburst with 11 of his team-high 21 points in the period.
Leading by just one entering the fourth period, the Suns drilled three consecutive threes to open up a nine-point lead with 6:47 left on the clock. The storm of threes was started by Frye beating the shot clock with a trey, which was then followed by a bomb from Barbosa and one from Dudley.
The bench was so hot that Nash was going to be the first starter to check back into the contest with about five minutes left, but after an incredible bucket by Dragic, Gentry shuffled the two-time MVP back to the bench. Barbosa, who declared that this is the best bench he’s played with during his time in Phoenix, scored 14 on 6-of-8 shooting, while Dudley added 11 points and six boards on 3-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
Amundson was a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor to total seven points, seven rebounds and one block, while Dragic compiled eight points, eight assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers on 3-of-6 shooting.
For the game, the Suns’ reserves shot 20-for-32.
“How they were playing defense, they wanted to take away Amar’e early on, so we spotted up at the three-point line,” Dudley said. “It was like target practice.”
No other Laker starter besides Bryant scored more than 15. Gasol and Odom each contributed 15, while Artest added 13 points and Bynum chipped in 12.
We’ll see if the Suns can carry their success in Phoenix over to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Thursday.
Any questions or comments for Stefan Swiat? Click here to send him your comments by e-mail.
NBA Media Ventures, LLC | Turner Sports Interactive, Inc.All rights reserved. No portion of NBA.com may be duplicated, redistributed or