Robin’s Red Breast is covered by Robin’s Bloodfest.

Not ready to Bow out:  Lopez and Stoudemire combine for 62, and a Forest-like Zone has Phoenix Robin from the Rich 17 times (including 10 Steals), as the Suns Tuck and run out of the Friar, 118-109;  It Sherwood be nice to get more than 9-for-32 from Odom and the Lakers’ other High-Archers

Looks like the Celtics will be well-rested for the Finals, as the Phoenix Suns have just put a stop to the Lakers’ plans for a sweep of the Western Conference Finals.  After the Lakers had won the first two games of the Series in L.A. convincingly, the Suns snapped out of it at Home, taking Game 3 118-109.

Game 4 is in Phoenix on Tuesday night, and with the support of their raucous crowd, the Suns could easily even the Series, thanks to their Zone Defense, and their two rejuvenated Big Men.  The Lakers had been enjoying a distinct advantage inside, but in Game 3, the Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire came out with a vengeance, driving to the hoop and drawing fouls like crazy.  Both Andrew Bynum and his replacement Lamar Odom got in early foul trouble, and had lousy games, as Stoudemire took Ownership of the Paint… and the Foul Line.  Stoudemire scored 42 Points, and pulled down 11 Rebounds.  That’s EIGHT more Boards than he got in Game 1.

Stoudemire had taken a lot of heat for his uninspired play in the first two games, and he responded big time.  If the Lakers don’t do something different to contain him, they could be in trouble.  The announcers were saying how Pau Gasol is now the best, most skilled low-post Big Man in the game, now that Tim Duncan is declining with age.  But — with respect to Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh — Stoudemire made a case that HE is actually the best inside weapon in the League.

Phoenix and Stoudemire got impressive and unexpected support from Starting Center Robin Lopez.  The Stanford grad — who never showed this kind of ability against UCLA (although his twin brother did) — was one of the most active and energetic players in the game.  He made 8 of his 10 shots, because his hustle put him in the right place at the right time.  It doesn’t hurt that he has Steve Nash running the Offense.  Nash had 15 Assists again to go with his 17 Points, but more importantly, he committed only 1 Turnover all night, and his Pick ‘n Roll passes to Amar’e and Robin were much more effective in this game.  The Lakers would have been in much deeper, if Channing Frye weren’t going through the Mother of all Slumps.  The ex-Arizona Wildcat went 0-for-7, and has now missed his last SEVENTEEN shots. 

But Starter Ron Artest, 6th Man Odom, and the other Laker reserves weren’t much better.  Kobe, Gasol, and Derek Fisher carried the L.A. Offense, as they led by 7 early in the 2nd Quarter, lost the lead before the Half, but then trailed by only a small margin for most of the rest of the game.  They finally regained the lead in the 4th Quarter with 8:47 left, off a Jordan Farmar Assist, but then hit a drought a minute later, sinking ZERO buckets in 5 1/2 minutes.  Kobe ended with 36, 9, and 11, but he went cold in the 4th, as did most of his teammates. 

The trouble really started for the Laker Offense when Phoenix went to a Zone Defense in the 2nd Quarter.  Odom and Artest struggled the most, as the Suns finally figured out how to keep the Lakers under 120 Points.  While the Zone seriously impeded Phoenix’s blocking out on the boards, it also saved the Suns from having to waste the energy of any one player trying to single-cover Kobe.  In a Zone, no one had to chase him all over the court — they just kept switching off.  At one point, TNT showed how all 5 guys took a turn at guarding him, during just one possession.  Kobe scored 15 in the 1st Quarter, and I thought he was going to score 60 for the game, but the surprise of the Zone really threw him off.

The main problem was that Kobe couldn’t find the seams in the Zone.  He had ZERO success trying to penetrate it, so he just stopped trying to drive to the basket.  The Lakers became a passive, three-point shooting team, just trying to bust the Zone from outside.  UCLA FANS ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR WITH THIS SCENARIO… and it never ends well.

The Lakers attempted a Franchise-record 32 Three’s, and made only 9.  Fisher scored 18, making 3-of-6 from Downtown, but Kobe was 2-8 from behind the arc, Artest 2-7, and Odom 0-4.  As Doug Collins remarked, you have to go inside — or at least “inside-out” — to break down a Zone, and the Lakers couldn’t do it.  When they tried to deliver entry passes, the ball was tipped away.  Gasol still tallied 23, but for the first time this Postseason, the Lakers lost when Kobe and Pau each topped 20.

Too many Turnovers, too many unnecessary three-point shots, and not enough team Defense on Stoudamire or Lopez.  In Game 4, the Lakers will have to hold thier ground underneath, stay out of foul trouble, and get their FG% back up from 48% to 58%, where it was in Staples, if they want to return to Staples up 3-1, instead of dead-even at 2-2.  At least now the Celtics have to spend a little time game-planning for the Suns too.