Reserves dominate Lakers, Suns win 115-106
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix bench finally delivered as advertised, and it could hardly have come at a better time.
Channing Frye broke out of a horrendous shooting slump by making four 3-pointers for 14 points, and the Suns pulled away in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 115-106 on Tuesday night and tie the Western Conference finals at two games apiece.
A series that looked like a Lakers’ breeze a week ago is all even heading to Game 5 on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
The Suns reserves, considered an advantage entering the series but largely ineffective through three games, outscored their Laker counterparts 54-20. Leandro Barbosa scored 14 on 6-of-8 shooting and Jared Dudley added 11 points. Goran Dragic ran the show at point and had eight points and eight assists in 18 minutes.
“We work every day in practice on our 3-point shot,” Dudley said. “We knew we would come around in this series.”
Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 21 points. Steve Nash, playing with a broken nose, had 15 points and eight assists.
Bryant had 38 points and 10 assists as the reigning NBA champions fought back to lead briefly early in the fourth before the Suns backups stole the show.
“They have a great bench,” Bryant said.
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry kept all five reserves in the game for almost the first nine minutes of the final quarter, and they produced an 18-3 run, and the Lakers never recovered. When Nash re-entered with 3:05 to play, those subs – usually playing against the Los Angeles starters – had turned an 87-85 deficit into a 103-94 lead.
“We believe in those guys, and they really believe in themselves,” Gentry said. “Tonight they played as well as they could play. … I thought they were much better defensively than they were offensively, and I thought they were great offensively.”
Frye had made 1-of-21 shots in the series and missed 18 in a row when his second shot of the night, a 3-pointer, finally fell to the roar of the home crowd.
“I set my feet and just let it ride,” he said.
Overall, the Phoenix reserves made 9-of-20 3s.
Jordan Farmar opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, his only basket in five shots all night, to give the Lakers an 87-85 lead, but Barbosa responded with a 22-footer to tie it. Lou Amundson scored inside on a pass from Dudley, then Frye sank a 3-pointer and Phoenix led 92-87.
That was the first of three consecutive 3s for Phoenix, the second by Barbosa and third by Dudley to make it 98-89. The biggest lead was 103-90 on Dragic’s driving layup with 4:02 to play.
“We thought we could come in here and get a game, and unfortunately you know we weren’t up to the task,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “But we outscored them from the field I think both games, shot better than they did, did a lot of things very good and it still wasn’t enough to win the game. They beat us at the foul line both nights, and that’s the difference in the margin of the game.”
The Lakers had more field goals the Phoenix (45-41), but the Suns dominated at the foul line for the second game in a row, sinking 22 of 32 to the Lakers’ 7 of 13.
After slugging out a 23-23 first quarter, the Suns erupted for a series-high 41-point second quarter, shooting 74 percent (17 for 23), 7 of 10 on 3-pointers to go up 64-55 at the half – and the backups led the way.
The reserves outscored the Lakers starters 21-11 to start the second period.
One of Bryant’s trademark scoring tears kept the Lakers in the game. After not taking a shot until the 2:09 mark of the first quarter, Bryant scored 15 in the second, making seven of his last nine shots, all outside jumpers. He was just getting started.
Bryant had 16 more in the third quarter, his 3-pointer with 2:20 to play finally catching the Suns at 81-all with 2:20 left. Pau Gasol made one of two free throws to put the Lakers ahead for the first time since the opening period, but Dragic made two free throws with 31 seconds left to put Phoenix ahead 85-84 entering the fourth.
NOTES: Jackson is 46-0 when his team takes a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. … Phoenix has led or been tied after three quarters in three of the four games. … The Suns are 6-1 at home in the playoffs, the Lakers 7-0. … Derek Fisher got Nash squarely in his broken nose in the third quarter, sending the Suns playmaker to the court in pain. Nash recovered to make two free throws. … The two teams combined for eight consecutive 3-pointers in a second-quarter stretch.