Posted May 26 2010 6:34PM
PHOENIX -- The Suns weren't surprised to hear the series was over after two games. They've heard it before. Plenty.
"All season, people really don't want to believe," Grant Hill said after Phoenix squared up the Western Conference finals at 2-2 with Tuesday night's 115-106 victory. "We like proving people wrong."
Two dominating performances by the Lakers in Los Angeles began the countdown to the Lakers' inevitable return to The Finals. Having the Boston Celtics waiting at the other end was just icing on the revenge cake. Count President Obama among those riding the Lakers-Celtics bandwagon.
Never mind that Phoenix hadn't taken its swings at home. As Suns coach Alvin Gentry reminded recently, no one counted San Antonio out after Phoenix won the first two games of the West semifinals.
So why were so many quick to dismiss Planet Orange?
The doubts began early. Missing the playoffs last season in the rugged West fueled the skepticism. Few bought into the 14-3 start. Many expected a December-January swoon to linger.
The Suns don't play defense. They don't rebound. Amar'e Stoudemire was on the block. Portland was capable of springing a first-round upset. Phoenix can't beat the Spurs in the playoffs.
And the Suns' chances against the champs? Please.
"We've got to understand they're a team [that's] dangerous, as they proved," Pau Gasol said. "I think people were overlooking them after the first two games and just thinking ahead already. And so obviously that's a big mistake."
Outclassed in L.A., Hill suggested the Suns' bench took it personally. Stoudemire returned to the desert with something to prove and words -- Lamar Odom was "lucky" -- to back up. Channing Frye had to prove he could hit a shot.
But was the two-game turnaround just confidence and motivation?
"The clippings said this was going to be an easy series and obviously that's why you play the games," Jared Dudley said.
Gentry's underdogs certainly moved the ball better inside US Airways Center. The Lakers remained confounded by the zone, with Kobe Bryant the only one willing to attack and collapse the Suns' defense. Phoenix held its own on the boards, got back to running the open floor and feasted at the free-throw line.
The same Suns team that appeared exposed at the start of the series suddenly had the Lakers reeling. Phoenix has transformed a potential sweep into a best-of-3.
How perspective can change in three days.
"If you play this game you want to play the best, and this team's the best," Dudley said of the Lakers. "Not only do we want to play, we want to win. We're not just satisfied going 2-2. We're not shocked."
All of this Suns' momentum can get washed away in the SoCal surf Thursday night. The Lakers can regain control -- they're 7-0 at home in the playoffs, including two wins over the Suns by a combined 33 points -- and return to Phoenix with a closeout chance Saturday.
"We've got to be ready for Game 5," Gasol said. "And make sure we come out extremely, extremely hard and take the lead again in the series."
Predictably, the Lakers weren't sounding any alarms. Phil Jackson's crew was 2-2 against both Oklahoma City (first round this year) and Denver (in the conference finals last season). The Lakers won Game 5 at Staples Center both times ... and the sixth game to advance.
"Experience is the best teacher of them all," Odom said. "We've been here before. We've been in this situation where we need to go home and get a win."
Kobe Bryant, however, isn't falling back on the past to predict the future.
"This is not last year. Just can't rely on that," he said. "We have to play with a sense of urgency and understand this team can beat us."
While the Lakers realize that, many still don't. The Suns wouldn't want it any other way.
"It's always a 'fluke' " Hill said. "But then when we lose in L.A. ... 'It's over ... L.A.-Boston, that's the big series.'
"I hope they continue to doubt us."
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