Sports Network | May 27, 2010
(Sports Network) - The Phoenix Suns climbed off the canvas to punch the Los Angles Lakers right in the mouth but if Alvin Gentry's club hopes to make it to the NBA Finals, they will have to find a way to win in Los Angeles.
The Suns take another swing tonight when they meet the Lakers in the pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
After being totally outclassed in the first two games of the series in LA, Phoenix responded by taking two straight in the desert. The Suns built on a 42-point, 11-rebound effort from Amare Stoudemire in Game 3 and Channing Frye broke out of his shooting slump and scored 14 points on Tuesday, as the Suns used strong bench play to even the set with a 115-106 Game 4 win.
Stoudemire had 21 points and eight rebounds in Game 4, while Steve Nash, who suffered a broken nose in the fourth quarter of the previous matchup, contributed 15 points and eight assists.
Frye came into the game 1-for-20 in the series and had missed his last 17 shots until knocking down a three-pointer midway through the second quarter. He went 4-of-8 from long distance and Phoenix's reserves outscored the Los Angeles bench players, 54-20. Leandro Barbosa had half of his 14 points in the last quarter. Jared Dudley added 11 points, while Goran Dragic contributed eight points and eight assists for the Phoenix reserves.
"The bench was fantastic," Nash said. "They made a lot of plays offensively, but defensively they were great in the zone. They scrambled. They were intelligent. They made good decisions. They were by far easily the difference tonight. We're just real proud and excited for them."
Phoenix's bench players accounted for all the points during a 14-2 run in the fourth quarter, turning a two-point deficit into a 10-point cushion with just over five minutes left.
"Dragic playing a pick-and-roll really hurt, couldn't stop it from getting into the lane and then started driving and kicking, and they made big shots on the kick outs," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said.
Kobe Bryant went 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, on the way to 38 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers. Lamar Odom had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while Gasol also scored 15, but the Lakers lost the battle of the boards by a 51-36 count.
Bryant, who now has 4,785 career playoff points, passing Karl Malone (4,761) for fourth place on the NBA's all-time list, was far more concerned about LA's inability to lock things down at the defensive end.
"Our attention needs to be on the defensive end, period," Bryant said. "That's second-chance opportunities. Their bench came in and gave them a big boost in getting balls back and getting them extra possessions. We've got to cut that stuff out."
Despite the loss, the Lakers and head coach Phil Jackson still have history on their side as they take the floor tonight. Jackson's teams are 35-0 all-time when winning the first two games of a series and are 53-1 all-time when holding a series lead of any kind in the playoffs.
"It's going to be tough going to LA and trying to get Game 5," Stoudemire said. "We both know it. Both teams know how important this game is. We have to make sure we bring the intensity from the start and do what we did here at home if not better."
LA took three of four meetings vs. Phoenix in the regular season and won the Pacific Division by three games over the Suns.
In the postseason, the clubs have a long and storied history, meeting 11 times previously dating back to the 1969-70 season. The Lakers have won seven of those series but the Suns have rebounded to take four of the last five playoff sets between the two teams after dropping the first six. Phoenix has also taken the last two postseason matchups between the clubs, first round series in 2005-06 and '06-07.
LA and Phoenix have met twice previously in the Western Conference finals with the Lakers winning both, in 1984 and 1989.
Game 6 of the series will be back in Phoenix on Saturday.