Suns Turn It Up A Notch, Even Series
The Phoenix Suns evened up the Western Conference Finals at 2-games apiece, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 115-106 at US Airways Center. Amar’e Stoudemire (21 points on 7-14, 8 rebounds) led the way for the victorious Suns, but it was there much criticized bench that finally made its mark in the series. Channing Frye (14 points on 4-8 all from downtown, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) and Leandro Barbosa (14 points on 6-8, 2 assists) led a balanced bench attack that saw them outscore their Laker counterparts, 54-20. Their resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Suns as the series heads back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Thursday. Kobe Bryant (38 points on 15-22, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) almost single-handedly propelled the Lakers to the victory, but the team faltered late in the 4th quarter with defensive lapses that ultimately cost them the game. Pau Gasol (15 points on 6-14, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocked shots) had a subpar game as it appeared the Spaniard was fatigued and a step slow to react. The Lakers were unable to stop the Suns from kicking their offense into high gear, amassing a huge free throw disparity for the second game in a row. The Suns shot 22-32 for a meager 68.8% but the Lakers only managed 7-13 for 53.8%.
The Suns have gained a great deal of confidence in their two home victories. And the Lakers have shown that they are slow to respond on defense in the two losses. Offensively, the Lakers shot 49.5% but again were guilty of jacking up too many 3-point attempts. They converted 9-28 for 32.1% while the Suns managed 11-32 for 36.7%. But the difference tonight was what Phoenix did on the boards, typically a Lakers strength. They outrebounded the Lakers 51-36, giving them valuable second and third chances on offense. Tied at 23-23 after the first quarter, the Suns blitzed the Lakers in the 2nd, scoring 41 points in the period for a 60-51 halftime advantage. Kobe’s 15-points in the quarter kept the Lakers from getting totally blown out, but the Suns bench had set the tone with a barrage (7-8) of 3-pointers.
The Lakers chipped away at the lead behind Kobe’s 16-points in the 3rd quarter. Gasol’s free throw gave them the lead at 84-83 but the Suns would end the quarter clinging to an 85-84 lead. The game looked to be turning in the favor of the Lakers, but Kobe was getting very little help and the Lakers continued to allow the Suns to set up on the perimeter and fire away. Jordan Farmar (3 points on 1-5, 1 rebound, 1 assist) dropped a 3-pointer to open play in the 4th quarter for a 87-85 lead. But the Suns went on a 13-2 run to end any thoughts of a Lakers come-back win. Frye, Barbosa and Jared Dudley (11 points on 4-7, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 blocked shot) all hit 3-pointers in the run to force a time-out by the Lakers. But it was too late as the Lakers never recovered as the Suns were content to trade baskets the rest of the way.
Steve Nash (15 points on 3-11, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal) didn’t have a particularly good outing, but his services weren’t needed tonight as the Suns bench came alive with a vengeance. Jason Richardson (11 points on 4-9, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal) and Grant Hill (8 points on 4-8, 4 rebounds) had light nights as their bench provided the bulk of the firepower. Louis Amundson and Goran Dragic combined for 15 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Lamar Odom (15 points on 6-13, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) and Andrew Bynum (12 points on 6-9, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot) were not enough to keep the Lakers from dropping their second consecutive loss. Ron Artest (13 points on 6-13, 3 rebounds, 1 assist) had another decent night, but again, it was on defense where the Lakers failed as a team.