Brown, Redd seize opportunity in Suns' big win
PHOENIX -- We should be safe assuming a healthy percentage of Saturday night's 18,247 paying customers were, at least, certifiably stoked about witnessing the entertaining exploits of a certain shooting guard.
The bill at US Airways Center was Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns, but the show was seized by two players at that position not named Kobe Bryant.
Nursing an injured shin that didn't even require amputation, the Lakers superstar spent this one wearing a snappy suit and sitting on the L.A. bench. By the way, let's hang on to the word "bench" for later.
OK, although Kobe and Lakers playmate Andrew Bynum didn't do the Suns any playoff-chase-related favors by losing to the Houston Rockets on Friday in L.A., they sort of made up for it here. With Bryant watching and Bynum missing 17 of 27 shots from the field, the Suns -- behind a combined 47 points from Shannon Brown and Michael Redd -- rolled to a 125-105 victory that provided the balm they needed to slather over Friday's fourth-quarter crash and burn in Denver.
It should be noted the cuckoo chase for lower seeds in the Western Conference playoff skirmish includes the eighth-seeded Nuggets losing to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
By winning the home game separating last week's three-game roadie and next week's four-game trip, the Suns moved to within one game of Denver.
"Every game, every week ... however you want to look at it ... is make our break," Suns point guard Steve Nash said after contributing 13 points and 11 assists in the win over L.A. "You can't afford to lose two or three in a row, so we gotta try to win two or three in a row and put ourselves in a position to upset somebody."
Knocking off the Kobe-free Lakers probably doesn't qualify as a a bona fide upset, especially since the Lakers have more difficulty on the road than a wayward skunk. But it wasn't too shabby, either.
"Even without Kobe, they've got two big guys that make it really difficult for us," Nash said of the Lakers, who trot out Bynum and co-7-footer Pau Gasol. Although Bryant usually has more success than most defenders in limiting their productivity, Bynum and Gasol needed 52 shot attempts against the Phoenix defense to generate 53 points.
They did corral 31 rebounds, helping L.A. to a 54-36 advantage on the glass. Despite having 11 of their shots blocked, the Lakers pounded Phoenix for 64 points in the paint. And finishing with 105 points on 48.5 percent shooting typically works as well.
But the Suns committed a franchise-record three turnovers and made half of their shots, including 14 of 29 from three-point range.
The Laker-killing momentum swing occurred in the second quarter, a pretty unbelievable 12 minutes that ended with 17 points from Redd and 13 provided by backup point guard Sebastian Telfair. With the starters taking the entire period off, the Suns bench outscored a combination of Lakers subs and starters to the tune of 38-25. For the night, the Suns reserves held a 58-10 scoring edge over L.A.'s reinforcements.
Much of Redd's work was done against pretty solid defense from Lakers stopper Metta World Peace. Despite physical play and expert-level positioning, World Peace was defeated by Redd's array curl-finishing, step-back jumpers and faded-into three-pointers.
"Just trying to be aggressive, chip in and do our part," Redd said. "We don't come in with any predetermined plans; we just go in there and play."
Brown, it should be noted, wasn't exactly slouching through the third quarter. Still starting in the absence of Grant Hill, the former Laker knocked in 20 points during that period, making 8 of 12 from the field (including 4 of 6 from three).
"He's been playing good basketball for us," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "I think overall he feels a lot more comfortable right now and, obviously, he's getting more extended minutes with Grant out ... but I think that it took a little bit of time for him to really relish the freedom that we give him. We're a team that plays a lot on instinct and he's played in a system where it was pretty structured and rigid and it took him a little time."
It's also taking some time for Brown's old Lakers teammates to transition from the triangle-based system of former coach Phil Jackson to whatever it is we're seeing from first-year coach Mike Brown.
"We haven't quite figured out how to play at the pace of this new pace we're playing at and defend at the same time," Brown said in a reference that probably has more to do with the post-trade deadline addition of point guard Ramon Sessions than with the Lakers adjusting to their new coach. "And that's the way Phoenix plays. They like a high tempo or a fast-paced game with a lot of possessions and they've done that for years."
This year, the Suns have done that for, uh, weeks. With the offense clicking, the 29-27 Suns are 17-8 since knocking off the Lakers here on Feb. 19. They check in at 15-7 since the All-Star intermission, with a 4-1 mark in April.
In addition to Laker-shredding by Redd and Brown, the Suns also milked high screen-and-roll with Bynum (cough) guarding the screener. Lurking about five feet behind Phoenix pick man Marcin Gortat, Bynum did little more than watch Telfair and Nash turn the corner into chip-shot jumpers.
"It was about defense, but I ticked off a lot of shots," Bynum said one night after being ejected during the loss to Houston. "I left about 50 out there -- 3 or 4 layups, 3 or 4 little shots in the middle of the lane."
The good news for Bynum and the Lakers? Shooting 10 of 27 provides very little inspiration for taunting the opposition.