In an absolute must-win Game 4 for the Phoenix Suns, it wasn’t Steve Nash or Amare Stoudemire, but the team’s entire bench that stepped up in a major way, hitting nine three-pointers and playing tough D to even the Western Conference Finals against L.A. at two despite another near triple-double from Kobe Bryant.
Bryant hit six threes himself, including three in the third quarter to help erase a 9-point halftime deficit created by the Suns’ 41-point second quarter, but Phoenix’s reserves hit three consecutive corner threes in just over a minute midway through the fourth quarter to turn a 87-85 Lakers’ lead into an 89-98 deficit.
L.A. would get no closer than six points with 2:24 to go before ultimately falling 115-106 as Bryant finished with 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game after going for 36, 11 and nine.
But for Phoenix, all five reserves played at least 17 minutes to combine for 54 points, while scrambling around on D and hitting an offensive glass that the Suns’ claimed 18-13.
“I thought they played about as well as they could play,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry of his pine unit. “I thought they were much better defensively than they were offensively, and they were great offensively.”
The Lakers, after taking 32 three-pointers in Game 3 (a franchise playoff high), attempted 28 to make nine against a healthy dose of zone defense, but L.A. coach Phil Jackson wasn’t upset with an offense that shot the ball very well overall.
“We shot 49 percent, didn’t we?,” said Jackson. “I don’t think we struggled against the zone. I think we struggled at the defensive end.”
Six Suns scored in double figures, led by Stoudemire’s 21 points and 14 from both Channing Frye (4-of-8 threes) and Leandro Barbosa (2-of-4 threes) for a team that for a second straight home game had a major margin at the free throw line.
“We lost the foul line both nights,” said Jackson, his team taking 13 foul shots to 32 from the Suns. “We have to do a better job in that activity. It seemed like every time we went near them they fell down.”
In Game 3, Phoenix took 22 more foul shots than the Lakers, and the 19 additional attempts in Game 4 helped mask L.A.’s edge in made field goals (45-41) and shooting percentage (49.5 to 48.8 percent). Yet the bottom line for Jackson was L.A.’s inability to get stops when they were most needed.
“They came out and hit a number of threes in that second quarter that excited the fans, and we knew we’d have to weather some storm in the sequence of games,” he explained. “We were hoping it would just be in the second quarter, but they came back in the fourth (and did it again). We didn’t shut them down in the fourth, and that’s the time you have to do it.”
Indeed, after winning the third period 29-21, L.A. lost the fourth 30-22.
That guaranteed the team’s return trip to Phoenix for a Saturday evening Game 6 following Thursday’s Game 5 at STAPLES Center.
Until then, your numbers:
6 Three-pointers made by Kobe Bryant, tying his career playoff high that was previously set on June 2, 2000, in Portland. Bryant had yet another terrific all-around game, scoring 38 points on 15-of-22 field goals along with 10 assists and seven rebounds.
7 Turnovers for the Lakers … but the Suns had just eight in a mostly well-played game.
18 Offensive rebounds for Phoenix, which hurt L.A. throughout the evening.
41 Second quarter points for the Suns on 17-of-23 shooting, including 7-of-10 three-pointers.
54 Bench points for Phoenix, which shouldn’t be compared with L.A.’s 18 points off the pine since the Suns’ subs combined to play so many more minutes. No Suns’ starter, as it were, played more than 31:19, while Kobe Bryant played 44:42 for L.A.