At last we have a series. Well, two actually. After seeing far too many lopsided matchups in the semis followed by what appeared to be two more sweeps in the making, both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals have finally earned our attention. Down 3-0 to the title-hungry Celts, the Magic managed to get one foot out of the grave with a Game 4 upset and are back in contention after last night’s Game 5 win at home.
The Suns also held down the fort at home and now we have a series that’s tied up at two wins a piece heading into Game 5 tonight back in LA. One major difference for Phoenix in Games 3 and 4 was the success of their junk zone defense, which confused the Lakers offense and forced them to rely on far too many long perimeter shots. In the first two games the Lakers averaged 126 ppg, but in Games 3 and 4 they only averaged 107.5 points. That’s nearly a 20-point differential between the number of points the Suns gave up in the first two games and the amount they gave up when playing on their home court.
While the Suns’ enigmatic zone certainly tripped up the Lakers at the defensive end, they had two key things happen offensively. In the first game it was an individual taking over, while in the next game it was the bench that collectively crushed the Lakers reserves. In Game 3 Amar’e Stoudemire had a huge, huge game with 42 points and 11 rebounds. And in Game 4 the major offensive factor for Phoenix was their bench, which outscored the Lakers bench 54-20, of which 15 were made by Lamar Odom.
For the Lakers this becomes a must win at home because they don’t want to go back to Phoenix down 3-2 in the series. Will Phoenix’s zone defense continue to be effective or will the Lakers figure out how to solve the problems that the zone defense presented for them in the last two games?
TNT will televise tonight’s Game 5 action live from the Staples Center at 9:00 PM ET.