Sometimes in sports, one team does not win; instead, the other team simply loses, perhaps by beating itself.
For instance, in football, one team may give its opponent great field position throughout most of the game, either via turnovers, failure to consistently convert on offense, or botched special teams assignments.
In baseball, one team may commit one too many errors on defense, or a pitcher may issue one too many base-on-balls.
And in basketball, one team may commit too many unforced errors and compound that problem by playing poor transition defense, thus allowing easy and often-times uncontested shots.
Rather, the Suns defeated the Lakers in "we are going to snatch it from you right out of mid-air" fashion.
L.A. kept peeping into the room of victory, but when it came time to seal the deal and secure win number one of these conference finals, Phoenix slammed the door on the Purple and Gold for good. This was thanks in large part to a 17-6 late-fourth quarter run and a series-breakout performance by Amare Stoudemire, who tied a career playoff best with 42 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
All things considered—playing on the road in a hostile environment, battling a team with its season essentially on the line, and getting bare contributions from Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest, notably—the Lakers gave themselves an opportunity to extend their postseason winning streak to nine games and more importantly, to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
But it was Phoenix that dominated down the stretch by capitalizing on coach Alvin Gentry's in-game adjustments and making all the timely plays.
Early in the affair, the Suns implemented a zone defense—which caused L.A. to settle for long jump shots instead of getting dribble penetration and maintaining an inside-out gameplan. These are the two main reasons why the Lakers were able to operate so efficiently on offense in games one and two. Accordingly, the disparity in both free throw attempts (22 more) and makes (21 more) favored Phoenix, because the Suns were the more aggressive team.
The zone defense also created 17 L.A. turnovers, six of which came in the first half of the final frame. In all, those miscues led to 16 Phoenix points, frequently via the fastbreak where the Steve Nash-led Suns predominantly excel.
Although the Lakers shot 48 percent from the floor, a clip that usually gets the job done on the road, 32 of their 87 attempts came from downtown, and L.A. only converted on nine of those treys (28 percent, for all of you non-math majors). As they say, long shots lead to long rebounds, which Phoenix milked for 18 fastbreak points.
On point, the Suns did everything to stay away from biting the apple of Eve: They surrendered only seven turnovers, shot an incredible 88 percent from the charity stripe, and committed only 21 fouls.
If the Suns can duplicate the same effort and urgency that they displayed on Sunday night during Tuesday's Game 4, the sun will not start to set on Phoenix's postseason push just yet.
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.
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