Kobe contained long enough in 4th for Suns to win

Kobe Bryant’s slow start didn’t hurt the Los Angeles Lakers. A

quiet fourth quarter definitely did.

Bryant had 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds Tuesday

night, but the Phoenix Suns contained him long enough in the final

period to pull away for a 115-106 victory that evened the Western

Conference finals at two games apiece.

After a scoreless first quarter, Bryant had 15 points in the

second and 16 more in the third. But he managed only seven in the

final 12 minutes, none until 2:37 remained in the game. By then,

the Lakers were down 103-95 and heading home tied in a series they

were dominating through two games.

“He was carrying us offensively, and then in the second half

they started sending two guys on him even when they were in the

zone,” teammate Pau Gasol said.

The Lakers’ offense didn’t go through Bryant early in the fourth

– there were back-to-back possessions where he didn’t touch the

ball – and he attempted only four shots in the quarter.

But Bryant was adamant after the game that wasn’t the reason his

team lost.

“We lost the game because our defense sucked,” said a clearly

upset and irritated Bryant.

The Lakers left the Suns open consistently in the second

quarter, and the league’s best 3-point shooting team hit seven 3s

in the period, six coming from bench players. Playing with all

reserves, Phoenix built a 10-point lead midway through the quarter

after ending the first period tied at 23.

Bryant didn’t score until 8:20 remained in the second, but still

had his third 30-point game of this series. He matched his career

playoff high with six 3-pointers while shooting over Phoenix’s zone

defense.

Three of his 3s came during the second, when Phoenix’s lead

reached 10. The Suns took a 64-55 advantage into halftime.

“I was more aggressive in the second quarter,” Bryant said.

“I felt the game slipping away. I kind of got going, made some

shots, kept going.

“But that has nothing to do with us getting to the next round.

Offensively we scored enough points. We need to do a better job

defensively, period.”

Bryant helped wipe out the nine-point deficit with his big third

quarter, tying it at 81 with 2:20 to play with his final 3.

Considered the best closer in the NBA, he seemed poised to push the

Suns to the brink of elimination.

Instead, the final quarter belonged to the Phoenix reserves, who

pushed the lead to as many as 13.

“That last run it was impossible for us to get back,” Gasol

said.

Bryant had three buckets in the closing minutes, but they were

too late, as Los Angeles couldn’t get closer than six.