by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

Despite the troubles they’ve had handling the Phoenix Suns’ “girly” zone defense in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers have done just fine on the offensive end.

According to every metric, the offense has performed well enough to win those games, but that has obviously not been sufficient.

The reason L.A. now must play a pivotal Game 5 back at Staples Center on Thursday night, against a surging Phoenix team that’s slowly beginning to believe it can win the series, is because their defense has been so atrocious lately. Or as Kobe might say, it has “sucked.”

Bryant — who once again performed brilliantly in a losing effort — was livid following the game last night, tersely addressing the assembled media about his team’s lack of urgency, and porous attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor.

The OC Registercaptured the quotes:

“Our defense could have been much better, I think. You know coming up here, we lost a sense of urgency defensively. I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone. And I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively. Our focus was on the other side of the floor, which doesn’t win championships. So we need to get back to ground zero when it comes to that.”

“We lost the game because our defense sucked … Like I said, we’ve got to do a much better job defensively. Paying attention to those guys, all of them, and staying in front of your man and things like that … Our attention needs to be on the defensive end, period. That’s second chance opportunities. Their bench came in and gave them a big boost in getting balls back and getting them extra possessions. We’ve got to cut that stuff out.”

If the Lakers hope to make their once seemingly-assured return trip to the NBA Finals next week, they can’t allow Phoenix (as they have in Games 3 and 4) to score upwards of 117 points, shooting 47.5% from the field, 32% from three-point land, and for the Suns’ bench to dominate the game.

Game 5 now has all the makings of a classic battle. The winner will have their defense to thank.