Suns' Defense, Stoudemire's Retro Moves Confuse Lakers
Stoudemire was swooping to the hoop like Connie Hawkins did 40 years ago. He had a baseline drive for a reverse layup and enough dipsy-doo moves that it appeared he, rather than Suns center Robin Lopez, should have been wearing a Julius Erving-like Afro.
Put it all together, and the forward scored a playoff career-high tying 42 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as his Suns beat the Lakers 118-109 at US Airways Center to cut the deficit in the Western Conference finals to 2-1.
"A lot of practice,'' Stoudemire said of the moves he displayed. "But I think just trying to keep those guys off guard, just really trying to bring out a lot of different moves, because they scout you so well and they know what you do best. So, if you can count on your go-to moves, it's hard for them to guard you. ... I wanted to be very, very versatile and try to catch them off guard with a few moves.''
Stoudemire sure did, and nobody on the Lakers claimed anything he did was "lucky.'' It was Stoudemire who uttered that claim after Lakers reserve forward Lamar Odom grabbed 19 rebounds in Game 1.
So, Lamar, how was Stoudemire's performance Sunday?
"He had a wonderful game,'' said Odom, not wanting to elaborate much. Then, after some prodding, he added, "He got to the hole and was forceful. He was great.''
Odom sure wasn't. He shot 4 of 14 for 10 points and fouled out in 35 minutes. Evidently, he was unlucky with the referees.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum had it even worse. Playing just eight minutes due to foul trouble and his ailing right knee, he managed just two points and two rebounds.
Power forward Pau Gasol, who is becoming a legitimate NBA star during these playoffs (if he wasn't already one), tried to keep the Lakers afloat in the post pretty much by himself. He had his usual steady outing with 23 points and nine rebounds.
But add a very surprising performance by Lopez, who had 20 points, to what Stoudemire did and the Suns' starting post players outscored the Lakers' counterparts, Gasol and Bynum, 62-25. That was the difference in the game, and the reason the Suns were able to overcome another magnificent outing by Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who totaled 36 points and 11 assists.
In losses in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, it was Phoenix's post players getting sand kicked in their faces. Gasol was great and Odom looked wonderful himself in relief of Bynum.
Meanwhile, nobody was comparing Stoudemire to Hawkins. He averaged 20.5 points in the first two games but just 4.5 rebounds and didn't appear overly aggressive. Then on Saturday he spoke at length about the possibility of becoming a free agent this summer if he opts out of his contract.
"I would like you to ask him 10 questions about free agency,'' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after seeing how Stoudemire responded to talking about the topic. "But I knew that Amar'e would respond. He's a competitor. He knows that he didn't play well in L.A.''
Stoudemire, though, begged to differ a bit about the trip to Los Angeles.
"I didn't,'' Stoudemire said of his belief he didn't play poorly in the first two games. "I played not bad. I could have did a little bit better out there. But, that being said, we had a different game plan defensively, and it was tough out there.''
The difference on defense was the Suns playing about 80 percent zone and confusing the Lakers at times. But the difference on offense was Stoudemire attacking the basket as if he were facing the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers' D-League affiliate.
"I was totally ready,'' said Stoudemire, undeterred that he suffered a cut on his forehead late in the third quarter when Lakers guard Derek Fisher fouled him and the goggles the big man wears scratched him. "Being aggressive. I wanted to pretty much attack the bigs a little bit, and we got them in a little bit of foul trouble.''
Actually, Stoudemire attacked the Lakers' bigs a lot. It's no wonder he shot 14 of 18 from the foul line. The Suns were 37 of 42 from the charity stripe while the Lakers, going 16 of 20, thought of it as a stingy stripe.
Even a second-quarter technical by Lakers coach Phil Jackson did not get his big fellows treated any differently. Jackson did mention the number of foul shots taken by the Suns but did not go into any territory that would result in him being fined.
"They attacked the hoop,'' Jackson said. "Earned 42 foul shots. ... We seemed to be staying home on the three-point shooters, and Stoudemire and Lopez had the night for them.''
Why anybody would pay attention to Suns forward Channing Frye is another story. He shot 0 of 7, including 0 of 5 from three-point range, and is now 1 of 20, including 1 of 14 on three-pointers, for the series.
As for Lopez's big night, it was stunning considering he was playing in just his third game back from being out since March 26 due to a back problem. Lopez, never one for many words, said "anybody can step up at any moment.''
The Suns just expect Stoudemire to step up a lot more.
"I don't think he played horrible, but obviously when you lose, your stars have to take the burden of responsibility,'' Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright said of Stoudemire bouncing back after the two games at the Staples Center. "So he came back and he played terrific. And, more importantly, I thought he played really smart. ... Fortunately, it was going in (for Stoudemire), and we were lucky the way it fell.''
Lucky? Let's not go there again.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson