Dissecting the Suns' three-pointers in Lakers' 121-116 loss to Phoenix
"Our philosophy," Jackson said, "is those things even out through time."
Instead, the team's 121-116 loss Sunday to the Suns featured Phoenix setting a franchise-record 22 three-pointers, the second-highest league total any team's scored in a game.
The feat seems so uncommon that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant nearly guaranteed that you wouldn't see it happen again anywhere else.
"When guys are in the gym by themselves," Bryant said, "they can't shoot that percentage."
And Phoenix's live-and-die-by-the-three mentality seems so unorthodox, Lakers guard Derek Fisher highly doubts that strategy will prove sustainable for a playoff run.
"I'll just say I have five rings playing a particular way," he said. "I feel like that works pretty well. People do other things, and you see the results. That's just my opinion. Obviously, I'm biased."
The Lakers' refrain in the locker room after their second consecutive loss became as predictable as the Suns' relentless three-pointers. Rather than using this time to reflect on their poor defense, the Lakers pointed their fingers at Phoenix, claiming there was very little L.A. could do to stop a hot shooting night. Sure, Lakers forward Lamar Odom conceded the team could've performed better on closeouts. Sure, Lakers guard Shannon Brown acknowledged that the Lakers should've slowed the pace down to prevent the Suns from hitting so many three-pointers. And sure, Lakers forward Matt Barnes pointed to the Lakers' 18 turnovers feeding into Phoenix's high-octane offense.
But the Lakers' aura of resignation masked the plenty of things they could've prevented in allowing an opponent to set a new franchise record for most three-pointers given up in single game against the Lakers' franchise. Considering how rare it is for teams to hit such a high volume of three-pointers in a single game, it's tempting for the Lakers simply to just forget it and move on. But the tape shows this is another example of the Lakers' ongoing problems on defensive coverages.
Below the jump, I detail what went wrong on nearly every Suns' three-pointer. I left out two sequences simply because I DVR'ed Fox Sports West's replay Monday afternoon, and that version fast-forwarded through a few parts of the first quarter, leaving two first-quarter treys on the cutting-room floor. But you get the idea.
First quarter, 11:01 - 10:52: As soon as Ron Artest hit a corner three-pointer, Phoenix guard Steve Nash pushed up the tempo. Suns forward Hedo Turkoglu set a high pick for Nash on Derek Fisher, causing Artest to pick up Nash near the top of the key. Despite Artest picking up Nash, Fisher fought through the screen, causing Pau Gasol to move out toward Turkoglu despite trying to mark Suns center Robin Lopez as he moved downcourt.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant remained in his "free safety/center field" defense, in which he gives shooters space on the perimeter, leaving Bryant the ability to cheat on defense and be open to help if needed. That strategy appeared to come in handy as Nash drove into traffic on the far side, but he immediately found Jason Richardson open on the near corner. Bryant appeared to rush out to contest the shot, but Gasol beat him to the punch and Bryant instead manned Lopez inside. Richardson fired away at ease, tying up the game at 3-3 for what would begin a long night.
First quarter, 9:47 - 9:37: After receiving a pass from Bryant, Odom pump-faked at Turkoglu at the top of the key, created separation and drove left-handed into the lane. To prevent Lopez from blocking his shot, Odom brought the ball underhand for the left-handed layup, but the shot hit off the backboard.
Turkoglu grabbed the loose ball and pushed it up the floor, with Artest trailing, Fisher stationed between Turkoglu and Grant Hill and Bryant manning the paint in case he's needed for help defense. Once Hill received the pass from Turkoglu, Bryant and Fisher shut him off as he drove the lane. But with Odom trailing back, there was no one to mark Richardson on the near corner. Odom rushed out to contest Richardson's three-pointer, but the shot dropped in to cut the Lakers' lead to 7-6.
First quarter, 8:17 - 8:06 The Lakers played in a box-and-one on this sequence with Gasol on the right block, Odom on the left block, Bryant in the paint, Fisher on the far wing and Artest guarding Nash up top. Once Lopez ran a high screen on Artest, Turkoglu curled up toward the top of the key as Odom approached closer toward Nash and Lopez.
Once Turkoglu received the ball, both Bryant and Odom approached Turkoglu, but both remained in the paint to shut off the passing lane. After Richardson received a pass from Turkoglu on the far corner, Bryant stepped out toward him, but Richardson drove baseline. Odom dropped down to shut off the baseline drive, but that move left Turkoglu open from outside. Bryant didn't switch until the past was made, giving Turkoglu a fairly open look to knock down a trey, cutting the Lakers' lead to 10-9.
Second quarter, 11:38 - 11:30: On a jump ball, Phoenix forward Josh Childress tips the ball toward Suns forward Jared Dudley, who then backs up behind three-point range and fires away, giving the Suns a 26-25 lead. This sequence revealed the Lakers breaking down on multiple defensive assignments. After Lakers forward Devin Ebanks lost the tip to Childress, he continued guarding him despite Pau Gasol being there in the paint to mark him. Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic remained fixated on guarding forward Channing Frye up top. And Lakers forward Matt Barnes locked on Suns forward Hakim Warrick before eventually stepping out to contest Dudley's shot.
Second quarter, 8:07 - 7:48: As soon as Odom drove past Phoenix with ease on a layup, Suns guard Goran Dragic immediately pushed the ball up the floor. Frye set a pick up top on Shannon Brown and Dragic used that space to drive through the lane. But Brown caught up and prevented Dragic from penetrating inside. Dragic backed up, switched to his left hand and then drove in again before Derrick Cararacter and Brown shut him off baseline. Dragic fed a pass from the baseline inside to Warrick, but Barnes blocked his shot.
Bryant immediately tried grabbing the loose ball, but Frye picked it up. Meanwhile, Dragic flashed toward the far-side perimeter, while Brown remained stuck in the paint. Bryant cut over to contest the shot, but Dragic's pump fake threw him off. Dragic then dribbled back and dropped in the three-pointer, cutting the gap to 35-33.
Second quarter, 6:51 - 6:43:After blowing past Bryant on the far end, Dudley was picked up by Caracter and Brown. Dudley kicked the ball out in mid-air to Frye at the top of the key, but Brown immediately denied him space both to shoot and drive. He swung the ball to a wide open Dragic at the top of the key. Bryant had been marking Dudley inside, but he jumped out to contest the shot. But Dragic had enough time to release the shot with ease, cutting the Lakers' lead to 37-36.
Second quarter, 3:24 - 3:09: With Nash manning the point up top, Frye set a high screen on Fisher. As Nash drove left, Gasol picked him up on the perimeter, but Fisher ran into Frye's screen and hunched over. With Odom marking the free-throw line, Frye didn't roll to the basket, however, and Fisher stayed on Frye. Nash cut into the lane past Gasol, forcing Fisher and Odom to pick him up inside. Nash then kicked the ball out to Turkoglu, who stood behind the arc. Odom ran out to contest the shot, but Nash had him boxed. Turkoglu's three-pointer reduced the Lakers' lead to 46-43.
Second quarter, 3:01 - 2:48: After Fisher missed an outside shot on the next possession, Frye grabbed the board and gave the ball to Nash to run the break. Odom got back on defense quickly enough so Fisher marked Turkoglu on the far side. Odom immediately picked up Hill once he received a pass along the baseline, while Gasol manned the paint. But that left Frye wide open on the near side and his trey tied the game up at 46-46.
Second quarter, 2:38 - 2:27:Once Bryant's far-corner three-pointer rimmed out, it was time for the Suns to run. Bryant tried preventing that by attempting to deflect Frye's pass to Nash, but he just missed. Phoenix had numbers but Artest closed in on Nash. He stopped on the wing, kicked the ball out to Richardson and blocked Fisher from contesting the shot. Richardson's trey gave the Suns a 49-46 lead after the team went on a 9-0. Remarked Lakers' play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers: "When you're that hot from the outside, you're going to keep going aren't you until it cools down." Said Lakers analyst Stu Lantz: "That's their game to begin with, so there's no reason for them to cool down."
Second quarter, 1:21 - 1:12: After Artest's missed lay-in, Nash pushed pace once again. Fisher picked Nash up at the top of the key, forcing him to swing the ball over Turkoglu on the far end. He then made a swing pass to Richardson, who nailed a triple from the corner for the 56-48 advantage, marking a 16-2 run. THe Lakers' defensive rotation appeared very odd. Odom usually guard Turkoglu, but he let him open outside so he could defend the paint because Gasol wasn't back on defense. Since Gasol wasn't in good position to guard Turkoglu, Bryant guarded the far wing between him and Richardson. But Bryant didn't even try stepping out to contest Richardson's shot.
Third quarter, 6:40 - 6:35: Phoenix didn't have to work much to create an open three-pointer for Turkoglu. After Turkoglu fed an entry pass to Hill, Fisher guarded him straight up, while Odom stepped down the left block in case help was needed. But that left Turkoglu wide open on the far end for a three-point shot, resulting in a Suns' 70-64 lead.
Third quarter, 4:48 - 4:41: This sequence showed how the Lakers' attempt to overplay the perimeter still led to bad results. Gasol and Fisher doubled Nash on the near side, prompting him to pass up top to Frye. Odom marked Frye, while Gasol rotated over, but that just resulted in Frye swinging the ball over to Turkoglu on the far side. Bryant, who played the free-safety position between Turkoglu on the far end and Richardson on the far corner, confronted Turkoglu up top, but that left Richardson wide open for a corner three-pointer, giving the Suns a 76-68 lead.
The Lakers experienced a systematic breakdown on this play because it adopted two conflicting strategies. On the far end, Gasol was loading up on the perimeter, but on the far side Bryant was guarding a particular area. Gasol made a valiant attempt at contesting Richardson's shot, but it did very little.
Third quarter, 4:17 - 4:09 The Suns showed here they sorely miss Amare Stoudemire's presence on screen and roll. But that didn't matter against the Lakers because this sequence resulted in -- you guess it -- another three-pointer. Warrick rolled to the basket after setting a screen for Nash on the near side on Fisher, but Gasol quickly shut him off. Too bad Odom also collapsed on D to stop Warrick because he left Turkoglu wide open at the top of the key. Despite Odom calling out his teammates to help close out, no one was in the vicinity to pick him up. Barnes ran out toward Turkoglu, but wasn't able to contest the shot. Turkoglu's trey increased the Suns' lead to 79-71. Said Lantz: It's all about the reaction time. If you are a second late on your rotations, that's what happens. You have to know where you're going and bang bang, you have to be there."
Third quarter, 3:01 - 2:53 Nash passed to Turkoglu up top on a give-and-go sequence, but Fish dropped back so he could still guard Nash on the nearside. Meanwhile, Odom marked Turkoglu at the top of the key. Warrick set a down screen on Barnes, while Richardson cut up top to the far side. Barnes instantly marked Richardson, but he had enough space to drive left. Odom picked him up on help at the free-throw line, but that left Turkoglu open at the top of the key. Fisher immediately picked him up, but he jumped to contest a possible shot and fell out of position. Though Fisher immediately recovered, Odom tried picking Turkoglu up, leaving Nash wide open on the nearside. His three-pointer extended the Suns' cushion to 84-74. Said Lantz: "Two guys went to Turkoglu. That's because they're not on the same page as far as who should rotate over to Turkoglu."
Third quarter, 2:42 2:31: After Odom's fall-away jumper fell short, Turkoglu grabbed the rebound and found Nash to push the pace. Fisher and Barnes stayed back to prevent any transition points inside, but Nash found a better alternative in Richardson on the far corner instead. Fisher rushed out to contest the shot, but Richardson's attempt went in, giving the Suns a 87-74 lead.
Third quarter, 2:09 - 2:00: The Suns showed on this possession that their screen-and-rolls without Stoudemire will mostly aim to open up more outside shots. Warrick set a screen on Fisher and nearly caused him to stumble, but he picked up his step and switched on him while Gasol went over to Nash. Though Barnes had marked Richardson on the corner, he dropped back to stop Warrick from getting an open look in the lane. Nash stopped at the free-throw line, threw a behind-the-back pass to Richardson on the near side and he pulled up for the open triple. The Suns took a commanding 90-76 lead.
Fourth quarter, 11:50 - 11:42: After feeding an entry pass to Childress on the nearside, Dudley set a screen on Odom at the free-throw line. Instead of switching up and guarding Frye at the top of the key, Brown stayed with Frye at the free-throw line. Odom contested the shot, but Frye had enough time to nail the triple, giving the Suns a 95-84 lead. With a big stroke of irony, Fox Sports West's sideline reporter Patrick O'Neal asked Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw during this sequence what adjustments the Lakers need to make with Phoenix's small lineup. "We have to switch. Instead of trying to get in screen-and-rolls and get into our rotations, we have to switch and keep our man in front of us so we don't have to rotate." The Lakers essentially did the exact opposite on the play described above.
Fourth quarter, 9:29 - 9:14: This play epitomized the Lakers' contention that the Suns frankly experienced a hot shooting night. Childress drove right only to be cut off by Barnes and Brown along the baseline. Childress then picked up his dribble and swung the ball out to Goran Dragic at the top of the key. Vujacic gave him very little space, but Dragic somehow managed to nail the three-pointer as the shot clock expired, expanding the Suns' cushion to 100-92.
Fourth quarter, 4:20 - 4:15: After Nash received a swing pass at the top of the key from Richardson, Frye set a screen on Brown. Gasol and Brown effectively switched, with Gasol marking Nash on the far side and Brown covering Frye at the top of the key. But Nash simply drilled a trey in Gasol's face, extending Phoenix's cushion to 107-102.
Fourth quarter, :40 - :34: After Nash hit a free throw following Lamar Odom's controversial technical foul, Nash connected with Turkoglu on the nearside. Though Bryant covered him closely, Turkoglu nailed the shot, set the franchise record and gave the Suns a convincing 115-109 lead.
What this means
The Suns' shooting mentality may win them some games this year, but it's not going to prove to be a sustainable strategy. It was a point Fisher passionately made after the game. It was also a factor Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry conceded to reporters afterward.
That being said, the Lakers could've offset the Suns' three-point shooting had they changed their strategy. Though the Lakers showed genuine hustle in playing defense, they showcased an arrogant attitude by not respecting Phoenix's capabilities. That's a sound attitude for any normal team, but by the time Phoenix hit 10 three-pointers the Lakers should've guarded the perimeter as if it were the paint. Instead, the Lakers kept daring the Suns to shoot outside shots, expecting that suddenly those shots would misfire.
The Lakers can flush some of these sequences out because Phoenix's record-setting night is record-setting for a reason. But a good number of the Suns' three-pointers came off of sequences in which the Lakers failed to switch up and communicate properly on assignments. That's a very correctable area of concern and it's not exactly spelling doom for the Lakers so early in the season. But the Lakers have experienced continuous problems with this, meaning they should view sharpening up defensive communication as their top priority moving forward.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Phoenix guard Steve Nash, left, tries to drive past Lakers guard Derek Fisher during the first half of the Lakers' 121-116 loss Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers guard Shannon Brown, left, and center Pau Gasol, right, try to strip the ball away from Phoenix forward Jared Dudley. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Phoenix guard Goran Dragic, left, loses the ball as Lakers guard Shannon Brown defends. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol, right, tries to stop Steve Nash from making a shot during the fourth quarter. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times .