Bench keys Suns’ win
PHOENIX — 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.
Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 21 points. Steve Nash, playing with a broken nose, had 15 points and eight assists.
Kobe 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.
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 our bench,” Gentry said. “Tonight they played as well as they could play.”
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.
Los Angeles did a much better job against the zone defense than in Game 3, but it wasn’t enough.
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.
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: Lakers coach Phil 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.