Kobe was doin work no doubt as he finished with 38 points on 15-for-22 from the field and six-for-nine trifecta, but the Suns' bench did just as much work, if not more. The Suns bench accounted for 54 points led by the resurgent Channing Frye, who had 14 on four-for-eight from three-point range and 2-for-2 from the line, and Leandro Barbosa who also had 14 on six-for-eight from the field and two-for-four from triple land. Jared Dudley (11), Goran Dragic (eight points, eight assists) and Louis Amundson (seven points, seven boards) also played pivotal roles in the Suns' series evening victory. The Lakers' bench scored 20 on the night. The two pivotal points of the game occurred in the second quarter beginning with 4:41 left when Steve Nash connected on a trifecta to put the Suns up 50-40. The Lakers battled back behind Kobe cutting it to 53-47 with 3:10 left after Kobe sank a 22-footer. That's when Channing Frye, who had been 1-for-20 from trifecta coming into the game, heated up. Frye sank a three from 23 feet to put the Suns up 56-47 with 2:58 left in the second quarter. Frye had sank another three-pointer earlier with 3:59 left to put Suns up 53-43. From the seven minute mark to the four minute mark, the Suns sank four trifectas. It was awesome. Kobe was battling back. He had 15 points in the second quarter alone. He was Jordnesque last night. The Suns took the lead into halftime, 64-55.
The fourth quarter was even more critical for the Suns as their bench responded again. Leading 89-87 with 8:22 left, Frye drained a 25-foot trifecta to put the Suns up 92-87. After an Andrew Bynum basket, Barbosa sank a 23-foot trey to put the Suns up 95-89 with 7:20 left. After a Jordan Farmar miss on a three, Dudley came back and sank another trey to put the Suns up 98-89 as the crowd and the Suns' starters on the bench went wild. LA couldn't ever get back in it, though you never felt like the game was over until the clock hit zero. Grant Hill closed the deal with :54 left on a 15-footer to put the Suns up 110-99.
Now the teams head back to LA tied at two for Thursday Night's game at 8 on TNT. This series is something else. I've said all along, this Suns team is the most fun team in basketball. They love playing together and shoot the lights out from trifecta when they're on. When they do that, they are very difficult to beat. They were really gettin' after it last night. They outrebounded the Lakers 51-36. They had 18 offensive boards to the Lakers 13. Amar'e had eight boards, Robin Lopez, who has given the Suns some real toughness to go along with Amar'e, pulled down six boards, as did Jason Richardson. Nash had 15 points and eight assists playing with a broken nose.
The only flaw for the Suns last night was their free throw shooting, which was a surprise. Normally a 70+ percent free throw shooting team, they were 22-for-32 from the line, only 68.8%. But they made some huge ones at the end. They were eight-for-nine in the last 1:38 when the Lakers were fouling.
The Lakers need to regroup. Last night it was Kobe and everybody else kind of watched. That 2-3 zone of the Suns is really confusing the other Lakers. They're shooting their threes like they have been in earlier series, which is not very well. They were nine-for-28, but six of those were by Kobe. Pau Gasol had 15 and only five boards and Ron Artest had 13. Andrew Bynum had 12.
Right now, the Suns are imposing their will on the Lakers, and winning the battle inside. If they keep the Lakers on the perimeter and stop the other players besides Kobe (I don't think they can stop him) from going off, they've got a chance to take this series. It's back in LA Thursday, but the Suns sure are feeling good about themselves.
Amar'e had 21 points last night and dominated Gasol, and Lopez is a man in the middle. The key for the Suns right now is dominating the paint area.
Can they win in LA? Will be difficult, but not impossible. If they can shoot the three (11-for-30 last night 36%, need to do better in LA) and control the middle as they have the last two games, they've got a shot.
Magic and Celtics at Orlando tonight at 7:30 on ESPN.
(Channing Frye photo above)