Kobe's 49 Not Enough, Shaq's 33 Plenty In Suns' Win Over Lakers
Gentry was optimistic about his team's chances anyway, and as it turned out, he had good reason to be. The Suns got a balanced effort from several players, and behind 33 points from Shaquille O'Neal, they beat the Lakers 118-111.
The Suns' coach was asked about his undermanned team having to face the league-leading Lakers without two of his best players in Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Considering Phoenix lost in L.A. to this same Lakers team by 26 points a few days ago, it seemed like a tall order.
"Remember the Alamo," Gentry said. "There was a couple hundred there against 4,000, and they held 'em off for two weeks. We've just got to try to hold them off for 48 minutes."
Phoenix got off to a strong start, leading by as many as 15 in the second quarter before settling for a 10-point halftime lead at 66-56. The Suns were shooting 59.1 percent from the field, and Shaq was having his second consecutive solid game, leading the Suns with 19 points.
Only Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were doing anything for the Lakers; Brant had 19, Gasol had 18, and no other Laker had more than four points. For the second straight game, L.A.'s bench was a no-show, which might explain what happened to start the second half.
Kobe Bryant went Nova.
With not much help coming from the bench -- or anyone else really besides Gasol -- Bryant took matters into his own hands. He scored 17 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, which sparked a 19-4 Lakers' run and turned the Suns' 10-point lead into a five point deficit at 75-70. What made him decide to go off like that?
"I just wanted us to get the energy back," Bryant said. "I felt like we were playing very lethargic, so I tried to get us going. I did that, got us back in the ball game."
On this afternoon, however, the Suns had a counter punch.
They answered Kobe's burst with a 13-0 run of their own, and regained their 10-point lead by the end of the third period.
To start the fourth, the Lakers' bench -- which has been completely missing in action since the All-Star break -- finally did something to help, and cut the Suns' lead back down to two thanks to two three-pointers from Trevor Ariza, one from Sasha Vujacic, and a jumper from Josh Powell.
But this game belonged to the Suns. After Lamar Odom picked up his fifth and sixth fouls in a 12-second span early in the fourth, and fouled out with just over eight and a half minutes remaining, O'Neal and Matt Barnes brought it home for Phoenix.
Barnes finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists, and hit the three-pointer that effectively sealed the win for his team with two minutes to go in the game.
It was a second straight big game from Shaq, who posted consecutive 30-point games for the first time since March of 2004 -- when he did so as a member of the Lakers.
Does Shaq's play remind Kobe of the player that he played alongside and won three championships with?
"No, not quite," said Bryant with a chuckle.
Lamar Odom struggled with the officials for a second consecutive game, and seemed troubled with his play afterwards.
"I felt like I made one mistake, the foul on Grant Hill," Odom said. "But that just kind of put the exclamation point on this game for me, I never really got to play. I went to the bench with my fourth foul, 75-70 in the third quarter. It's tough.
"There were a couple of plays before that one, that just took me out of the game. I can't play. You know, it takes the aggressiveness sometimes out of the player."
Bryant suggested a course of action for Odom to get back into the officals' good graces.
"Send the refs a bouquet of flowers or something, I don't know," Bryant said.
The Suns got 42 free throw attempts to the Lakers' 20, and Phil Jackson commented on that after the game.
"It's tough to win when you give up that many free throws," Jackson said. "We gave up 42 tonight, that's tough. You're always going to have a discrepancy when you're on the road, you know that."
When Kobe was asked about the officiating, he knew better than to go down that road.
"Are you trying to get me fined or something?" Bryant joked. "It was fantastic."
Free throws were not the reason the Lakers lost this game. The Suns were more aggressive from the start, and after that big third quarter run from Kobe, he was only able to hit three of his final 13 shots the rest of the way. And, he got little help from anyone else besides Pau Gasol.
Without Lamar Odom down the stretch, and with L.A.'s bench contributing almost nothing beyond that little run to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers simpy couldn't put it together against a balnced and aggressive effort from the Suns.
For Phoenix, the win was big, as their next six games are all against playoff teams, both from the East and the West. If they get Nash back for that stretch, this game could be the one they look back on as the turning point when the team started to gel and make their run at a playoff spot.
As for the Lakers, except for Lamar Odom, the team didn't seem too crushed by the loss. You never want to lose obviously, but for the team with the best record in the league, they know the season is about more than a loss on the first day of March; they're looking forward to playing when the calendar turns to June.