By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: May 23, 2010

L.A. may have Cruise and DiCaprio filling its seats, but in Phoenix, we have one of the most lethal offensive tandems in recent NFL history sitting courtside.

Former Cardinals star quarterback Kurt Warner and current Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald were on hand in Game 3 to support their local hoops squad. Both consider themselves devout Suns fans.

“I think they have a great team and that they’re playing really well together,” Warner said. “It’s just when you run into a team like the Lakers, they are so long, I think that’s why a lot of teams have a hard time matching up with them. Hopefully they can get it back in their favor with a couple wins at home.”

Warner said that his memories of glory in the postseason were marked by an alteration to his mental approach.

“You can’t slip up even one time,” he said. “It’s three or four weeks and you give it everything you got for those three or four weeks and then you see where it falls. The rest of the stuff comes later.”

Warner said that during the regular season, he started preparing mentally for a game the night before, whereas in the playoffs, he’d begin focusing during the middle of the week. The former MVP said that it’s crucial to curb social activities and distractions of any kind in the playoffs.

“All of my thoughts were on football although you can only do that for so long,” the former Super Bowl Champion recalled. “I had to stay a little bit more at the office, study a little more, commit a little bit more time and there’s going to be a little bit more of a sacrifice on the other end. But I think my family and my wife understood and I’d say, ‘Just give me a few weeks, we’ll make up for it in the offseason.’”

Fitzgerald is also a common sight at Suns games. The Pro Bowler said the key to winning in the postseason comes down to individual execution.

"You just have to hone in and make sure you’re taking care of your assignments each and every series or on the floor,” Fitzgerald said. “Do the little things like rebound and box out. Those little things help teams win.”

Whether the Suns win or lose against the Lakers in this series, the Cardinals Pro Bowl receiver is still a sure bet to sport the purple and orange.

“I love the Suns and their players and what they stand for,” Fitzgerald said. “I love the style they play with Steve Nash, Amar’e, Alvin Gentry and Grant Hill. “There are some really good men on the team and it makes them easy to follow and enjoy watching them.”

STATMan and Robin

Although Amar’e Stoudemire uncorked one of the most impressive games of his Suns career, his frontcourt partner also shined brightly in the Suns’ 118-109 victory over the Lakers.
Center Robin Lopez shot 8-of-10 from the floor to total 20 points in nearly 30 minutes Sunday.

“I just needed to make sure I kept people off the boards, stepped up on defense when there was penetration, and offensively when I had an opportunity, I needed to take it whether it was to get the ball to somebody else or attack the rim,” Lopez said. “We have a very deep team so anyone can step up at any moment. Amar’e having a great night like that is going to get me open as is having a great point guard gift-wrapping me the ball.”

Grant Hill was also impressed by the second-year center.

“For a guy who hadn’t played in six weeks and who hadn’t done much with the first unit, he was mostly with the second unit, he may have come back even better,” Hill noted. “You can see why we’re so
excited about him and the progress that he’s made this year. He’s going to be sensational for a long time.

“He’s getting more confidence in his body, he’s got a great touch around the basket and he’s got a great jump shot.”

The jump shot was something that Lopez did not unveil much during the season. He was able to connect on a few from 15 feet.

“He works so hard and he wants it so bad,” Hill added. “Even though he’s not been playing there’s a comfort level that we have with him and one that he has with the starters. As good as he is, I think he’s going to be even better.”

Lopez also helped hold the Lakers’ front line of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to just 26 points and 14 boards between the three of them.

The Fourth

It was a familiar sight. In Game 2, the Suns and Lakers were knotted at 90 apiece heading into the fourth period.

In Game 3, the Suns held a slim two-point lead heading into the decisive fourth quarter. But after getting run out of the gym in the fourth quarter of Game 2, it was a different story in Game 3.

In Game 2, the Suns were outscored by 12 the fourth, whereas on Sunday, the Suns were the aggressors, outscoring the Lakers by seven in the final period. Before the coaches came into the huddle during the timeout between the third and the fourth periods of Game 3, Hill said the players rallied around each other.

“Amongst ourselves we all said, ‘Look, we’re going to win this game,” Hill said. “Just 12 more minutes. I think going into the fourth we felt like it was our game to win.”

The Suns outrebounded the Lakers in the final period, shot 10-of-18 from the field and 10-of-12 from the line. The Lakers were held to 8-of-21 shooting from the floor and were limited to just eight trips to the line.

The Lakers also coughed up the ball six times in the decisive final period.

“We watched some tape of the game that we beat them earlier in this season at home and compared that to Games 1 and 2 and the effort just wasn’t there,” Hill noted. “It got to a point where it wasn’t’ about Xs and Os or what we were running, it was just about competing, fighting and just having heart.”

In the Zone

After the Lakers drained a scorching 58 percent of their shotz in Games 1 and 2, the Suns knew they had to make some adjustments. After allowing L.A. to total 32 points on 58 percent shooting in the first quarter of Game 3, they knew they really had to do something drastic.

So despite mixed results from their zone defense in teh last few games, the Suns decided it was time to launch the kitchen sink. And to Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s surprise, it worked.

“I told you that’d we play some zone, I just didn’t think that we’d play 80 percent zone,” he said. “To be honest with you guys, in practice yesterday it’s been as worse as it has ever been. I got really upset because I didn’t think it was any good at all.”

It was better than good Sunday, limiting the Lakers to just 15 second-quarter points.

“Most of the time, I felt like most of their shots were coming from the outside,” Gentry said. “After they hit a few shots we figured we had to give it a try in the first half I think they were 4-for-21 against it. Tonight it worked so we stuck with it.”

The Lakers finished shooting 48 percent from the field for the game.

Injury Reports

Nash’s nose cartilage shifted after he bumped into the head of the Lakers’ Shannon Brown. The two-time MVP will be examined by an ENT (ear, nose, throat specialist) in the morning.

However, the bone doesn’t appear to be broken.

“I don't think I broke it, I think I rearranged it,” he said. “Obviously there's a dent and it's bent. I think I whacked the cartilage out of place but I tried to push it back into place so it's not as bent now, but it's still nicely curved.”

Also bruised and battered was Stoudemire, who walked out of the locker room with a band-aid across his forehead. But the All-NBA Second Team forward didn’t need any stitches for his wound.

“I did get cut by my goggles (when I) got hit across the forehead,” Stoudemire said. “I got a nice slice there on the forehead.”

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