The Phoenix Suns won a game on their home court and took a step towards evening the series at two apiece.
Their winning effort against the Los Angeles Lakers in game 3 was made much more impressive by Amar'e Stoudemire, who surged for 42 points and 11 rebounds. His point total on Sunday was greater than his both of his point totals in each of his previous two games combined and proved to be the boost that Phoenix needed to top L.A. in game 3.
Fellow Phoenix big man, Robin Lopez, complimented Stoudemire on the inside. Lopez contributed a solid 20-point performance to the winning effort. Combined, the pair impressively accumulated more than half of the Suns' 118 points.
Although the offensive dominance of the Suns' big men was key to their game 3 victory, the Suns' zone defense stole the show. Their defense was smothering and therefore able to hold the Lakers to under 110 points. This hadn't been done since the Jazz held the Lakers to 104 points in the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals three weeks ago.
The Suns' zone defense made it difficult for the Lakers to utilize their big men and limited the role of Lamar Odom. In the Lakers' previous two wins, Odom scored 17 and 19 points, respectively, made significant rebounding contributions, and racked up 19 rebounds in game 1 and 11 rebounds in game 2.
However, in Sunday's game, Odom was limited to a mundane 10-point, 6-rebound performance. This may have been a reason that the Lakers only managed 109 points.
The limited role of Andrew Bynum also aided the Suns. Bynum only played for eight minutes and scored one field goal due to soreness in his knee. But according to Mike Trudell, of lakers.com, Bynum is expected to start tonight in game 4.
Regardless of the Suns' defensive scheme, it appears that Kobe Bryant has fallen outside of Phoenix's priorities as they allowed him to shine in game 3, falling one rebound shy of a triple-double (36 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds).
Although Kobe had another impressive performance in this year's playoffs, he failed himself in the end by not helping his team get the win in game 3. He knows that the Lakers still lead the series and he knows the importance of taking a 3-1 series lead back to L.A. so they can close this series out as quickly as possible, preferably in game 5.
So tonight in game 4, I'm expecting Kobe to dig down and come up with another big performance similar to his one in game 3. I also expect the Lakers to take advantage of their veteran leadership and experience to make some adjustments to counteract the defensive strategy that Suns enacted so effectively in game 3.
Although the Suns are rolling right now and Stoudemire is coming off a huge game 3, I don't think that their zone defense will be enough to hold off the Lakers on this night. The Lakers are a vetted team who have been here before and know the importance of taking a 3-1 lead back to L.A. for an all-important game 5.
I'm counting on the Lakers defense to make some adjustments and I'm expecting that they will not allow Stoudemire to have another 42-point performance. Furthermore, I'm predicting that Lamar Odom's presence will be much greater tonight than it was in game 3.
Even though I love the Suns and the momentum that they are carrying into this pivotal game 4, I don't think it will be enough to curb the hungry bunch of veterans that L.A. has on their roster. So I'm expecting this game to be close and physical, but tonight I'm taking the Lakers to edge out Phoenix for the win.