Suns get even with Lakers, 115-106 – LA Times

By Mike Bresnahan
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Phoenix — Somewhere between the desire to bust the zone defense of the Phoenix Suns and move decisively within a victory of the NBA Finals, the Lakers forgot about one fairly important concept.

Their defense.

The Suns rolled over the Lakers, making a mountain out of a series with a 115-106 victory Tuesday in Game 4 that evened the Western Conference finals.

The team that barely made it out of Staples Center last week had all the momentum after leaving US Airways Center, in case Kobe Bryant’s glowering visage wasn’t evident enough. Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday at Staples Center.

“Coming up here, we lost a sense of urgency defensively,” Bryant said. “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 [offensive] side of the floor, which doesn’t win championships.”

Neither does a vastly overpowered bench. Or another game with too many three-point shots and too few free-throw attempts.

Bryant was close to another triple-double, this time finishing with 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. He was also the Lakers’ edgiest player, baring his teeth on a number of occasions if a call didn’t go his way and grimacing at teammates when he didn’t get the ball.

The difference between being up 3-1 and tied at 2-2 was as obvious as his demeanor after the game, which he sarcastically described as “jovial.”

The Lakers were outrebounded by the smaller Suns, 51-36, and Phoenix’s reserves embarrassed those of the Lakers by a 54-20 scoring margin.

The Lakers pledged to take fewer three-point shots after hoisting a playoff franchise-record 32 in Game 3, but they took 28 on Tuesday, making nine.

The Lakers still had problems with the Suns’

defense, to be sure. Other than Bryant, their best scorer was …?

Pau Gasol had only 15 points and missed eight of 14 shots. Lamar Odom had 15 points on similarly unimpressive six-for-13 shooting. Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar were part of the problem on the bench, combining for five points on two-for-12 shooting.

How much were the Lakers’ reserves smoked?

“It wasn’t a Cohiba, I’ll tell you that,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

Despite their massive issues, the Lakers were tied with the Suns, 87-87, before Louis Amundson scored down low and the Suns made three-pointers on three consecutive possessions for a 98-89 lead with 6:47 to play. The Lakers never got closer than six the rest of the way.

“It was fun in the locker room,” said Steve Nash, who had a rather pedestrian 15 points and eight assists. “Everyone enjoyed the game.”

Amare Stoudemire did what he had to do (21 points, eight rebounds), but it was the unexpected production from Leandro Barbosa (14 points), Jared Dudley (11 points) and Channing Frye (14 points) that carried the night.

The disparity between the reserves was never more noticeable than a second quarter in which the Suns’ backups won the battle of benches, 30-7. The Suns outscored the Lakers in the quarter, 41-32.

The Suns also continued their march to the free-throw line, making 22 of 32 while the Lakers made seven of 13.

The Suns have shot 74 free-throws in the last two games, the Lakers 33.

The Lakers might want to attack the basket more aggressively in Game 5 or else that championship matchup with Boston might never come. The Suns are here to stay.

“I think people were overlooking them after the first two games and just thinking ahead already,” Gasol said. “Obviously that’s a big mistake.”

The Lakers are 7-0 at home in the playoffs, and have won their last eight Game 5s. Their last loss in Game 5 was the 2007 playoffs against … the Suns.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Bryant said. “I know my guys are too.”

May 25, 2010