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Fran Blinebury

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The bench is congratulated by the Suns' starters after taking charge in Game 4.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Supporting cast steals show as Suns draw even with Lakers


Posted May 26 2010 9:58AM

PHOENIX -- They are a collection of arms and legs and mouths all moving at once. They come at you from the left, the right, tip-toe up from behind and get right in your face.

That's not a bench that coach Alvin Gentry has at his disposal. It's one of those tricked-up La-Z-Boy recliners that come with stereo speakers tucked into the cushions, a massager for your back, an ice chest to hold the beer and even a microwave oven to heat up the pizza.

Talk about your survival equipment.

Now the Suns have lived to see the Western Conference finals evened up at 2-2, due first to Amar'e Stoudemire's impersonation of Godzilla in Game 3 and now because the Suns bench did its five-headed monster routine.

"Nothing new," said starter Jason Richardson. "They've been doing it all season."

"In a way, they're really the ones who have given us our identity," Grant Hill said.

They're either raining down 3-pointers on your head or burying you in an avalanche of hustle plays.

Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa and Louis Amundson. You could call them Victoria's Secret, for all the support they provide.

"They've been good for us," Gentry said. They really have. That's why I say we believe in our bench. And although they weren't scoring [in the first three games], I thought they played well."

Then their offense exploded in the faces of the Lakers in Game 4.

Frye, who had suffered through a miserable 1-for-20 start to the series, missed the first shot he took on Tuesday night and then was 4-for-7 from behind the arc the rest of the way.

Dudley, who plays like a hungry bear in a campground of unguarded coolers, scrambled for his 11 points and six rebounds and simply knocked down any Laker in his path to make a play.

Dragic cuts through the defense and does more slicing than you'd see in a month's worth of late-night TV commercials for cheap knives and wound up with eight points and eight assists.

Barbosa is quicker than the flick of a light switch and burned at about 200 watts with 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

Amundson got his seven points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes by chasing down every loose ball and banging into everybody that he can find.

Together they are as dangerous as a rolling bundle of razor blades and they cut up a high-profile Lakers unit -- Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom -- that many believe is the best five-man lineup in basketball.

"I expect us to go out there and be better than their bench every time, even if Kobe is out there and Gasol," Dudley said. "That's our job."

"We don't look at the other names or the other faces," Amundson said. "We just play."

And they play for each other. When Gentry tried to put Richardson back into the game in the second half, J-Rich told him, "He's on a roll. Let him go."

Gentry says these Suns are closer to a college team. Truth is, they often look and sound like something straight out of a frat house.

"We talk trash and we have fun," said Dudley. "It's the way we play. It's what inspires us."

According to Dudley, it's a pretty even split with the starters holding a slight 60-40 advantage when they scrimmage against the bench in practice.

"Ah, I'd say it's closer to 25 percent that they win," said Richardson.

Hill rolled his eyes and shook his head. "We kick their butts," he said. "Jared, Jason and I are always talking. But it's all in good fun."

It was great fun as the left-for-dead-when-they-left-LA Suns flattened the Lakers' one-man Kobe Bryant (38 points) show with an across-the-board, 10-man effort that was as effective as a thresher going through a Kansas wheat field.

For a series that will now go at least six games, and possibly seven, the accumulating minutes could be at least a nagging worry to the Lakers. Bryant played a hair under 45 minutes and Ron Artest, Gasol and Odom all played more than 35. Meanwhile not a single one of the Phoenix starters played more than 31.

"It could be something of an advantage for us as we go along," Hill said. "But really it's a just a continuation of the way we played all season.

"It's what [general manager] Steve Kerr envisioned when he talked to me last summer about coming back here. He talked about me and Steve [Nash] being the older guys, mentoring the younger ones and helping the team get to the next stage while also winning some games.

"The thing with these young guys is they all worked over the summer and they all came back better. When I saw that in training camp, I thought we could win some games. I don't think anybody expected this."

Here is Barbosa slinging in a 3-point dagger from the corner. There is Dragic doing a flamenco dance through the lane for either a layup or dish-off for a bucket. Here is Frye rediscovering his shooting stroke and his smile. There are Dudley and Amundson bowling over anything and everything in their path.

Holding an 85-84 lead going into the most critical 12 minutes of their season, the Suns started the fourth quarter with Dragic, Dudley, Frye, Barbosa and Amundson on the floor and let them bring home the biggest win of the season. When Stoudemire finally returned to the floor and the last of the reserves were taken out with 2:37 left, the Suns held a 103-95 chokehold on the Lakers and the Phoenix bench had a 54-49 scoring advantage over the first team.

It's who the Suns are. It's what got them here.

"Another one of those nights," said Dudley, "when the starters got to enjoy the show."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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