Playing 'D' a new concept for high-octane Suns

Updated: May 13, 2006, 9:18 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Playing defense is usually little more than a necessity for the Phoenix Suns, an obligation of sorts while the other team has the ball.

So they could afford to chuckle a bit Saturday about winning by holding an opponent down.

But there were no promises that kind of approach would continue Sunday in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinal series with the Los Angeles Clippers. No, the Suns won't deviate from their normal approach -- run like crazy, shoot the ball quickly, and often from distance.

"It was kind of tough to swallow," coach Mike D'Antoni said with a smile when asked how it felt to win with defense.

"It's not the type of game we're going to win a whole lot. Once in a while, we can do it," two-time MVP Steve Nash said.

"The playoffs are a whole different animal, you've got to find different ways to win," Raja Bell said. "I don't know if we played that well on defense all year. If I said I thought we could play like that every game, I'd probably be lying to you."

The Suns, who led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, had lost eight straight playoff games when scoring fewer than 100 points, including four this month before beating the Clippers 97-94 Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"Our task now is to bounce back and get the game here tomorrow," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We already know we can win in Phoenix, and we're obviously going to have to do that one more time."

The Clippers, who shot 56.7 percent and averaged 122.5 points in splitting the first two games, made 42.2 percent of their field goal attempts in Game 3.

"Uh, not really," D'Antoni said when asked if he remembered his team playing that well on defense at any time this season. "That was about as good as we can go."

The Suns won despite shooting 37.2 percent, and missed 15 straight 3-point shots before Shawn Marion connected to tie the game at 85, triggering a game-closing 12-6 run.

"We shot 37 percent as a team? Did we really? It's not all about offense on this team," said Marion, who had 32 points, a career playoff-high 19 rebounds and four steals.

After the Clippers beat the Suns 122-97 in Game 2 to even the series, D'Antoni made two significant defensive adjustments, putting the 6-foot-7 Marion on point guard Sam Cassell, and inserting the 6-10 Tim Thomas into the starting lineup and assigning him to Clippers scoring leader Elton Brand.

No doubt that's how the Suns will play it Sunday.

After scoring 51 points in the first two games, Cassell was rendered ineffective by Marion, shooting 2-for-10 and scoring six points. The 36-year-old Cassell, who has a reputation as one of the NBA's best clutch players, sat out all but 35 seconds of the fourth quarter.

Dunleavy said there was a combination of reasons why Cassell spent so much time on the bench.

"I went back and I looked at the film last night, and I really wouldn't change it," Dunleavy said. "For the most part, it was a night where Sam -- whether it was Marion or whatever it was -- he just hadn't made his shots."

And, Dunleavy added, Shaun Livingston was playing very well at both ends of the court.

"You know from experience your guys, and you see what you think is the best for you, and you make a bet, and you live with it," Dunleavy said. "I mean, you have to understand: We got here by playing defense. I'm leading with our defense.

"I would say we've won probably 80 to 90 percent of the time when we've had a lead and we've stuck with our defensive group on the floor. They've been able to hold it for us, and we've won."

Cassell wasn't complaining Saturday.

"I thought I would get back in the game, but coaching is a read, man. And I don't question Mike Dunleavy making reads," Cassell said. "He made the read, he thought that the guys on the court were getting the job done, and they were."

With Cassell on the bench, the Clippers rallied from an 11-point deficit for a three-point lead.

"But, you know, I'd like to be in the game at that particular time, no doubt about it," Cassell said. "When I'm at my best is in the fourth quarter. We'll see what happens in Game 4. I'll be out there in Game 4, I guarantee you that. That's one thing I can guarantee you."

Brand, who shot 28-of-38 and scored 67 points in the first two games, was 7-for-17 and scored 20 points in Game 3.

"They really mixed up their double teams against me personally," he said. "I expect us to respond the same way we responded in Game 2. We definitely feel a sense of pressure, because we thought we could have pulled out last night for sure.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered that much. We're excited for tomorrow."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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