The Los Angeles Lakers were outnumbered and outplayed in the desert.
The Phoenix Suns got a decisive performance from their hustling bench to overcome Kobe Bryant's 38-point, 10-assist performance and beat the Lakers 115-106 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night.
A series that looked like a Lakers' breeze a week ago is all even at two apiece heading to Game 5 on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
The Suns reserves, considered an advantage entering the series but largely ineffective through three games, outscored their Lakers counterparts 54-20.
HoopsVibe's Call: The Phoenix Suns are in 'The Zone'. Literally.
The surprising Suns have tied the Western Conference Finals by using a zone defense against the Los Angeles Lakers. There are several reasons the defending world champions have struggled against this unorthodox defense:
-Zone is rarely used in the NBA, especially come playoff time. In fact, for decades zone was banned because it was believed to limit the players' ability to showcase individual talent. The purple-and-gold is out of sync against a defense they've rarely seen.
-The Lakers lack a true point guard. A classic, pass-first table setter can direct the offense and find the holes against a zone. Too often, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Derek Fisher settled for outside shots and allowed teammates to become perimeter players.
-Bryant had a strong game, hitting 15-of-22 shots for 38 points and adding 10 assists and 7 rebounds. However, he couldn't get clean looks against the zone for most of the fourth quarter and Pau Gasol struggled.
-The zone forced the Lakers to play at the Suns' breakneck pace. No team - not even the great Lakers - beats Seven Seconds Or Less when the game becomes a track meet.
The Suns' zone has made the Western Conference Finals a best-of-three affair. The Lakers must adjust to the zone or another team will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.
What do you think of Phoenix's zone? Get at us in the comment box below with thoughts.