(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: May 3, 2007
For the second straight postseason, the Suns forced the Lakers to start their summer vacation early, thanks to Wednesday’s 119-110 Opening Round-clinching Game 5 win.
Amaré Stoudemire weathered first-half foul trouble to lead the way for Phoenix with a team-high 26 points and game-high 16 boards. It was the All-Star center’s fourth double-double in the five-game series, and his combined 37 rebounds in Games 4 and 5 also tied him for the most boards in a two-game span in Suns’ playoff history.
Despite weathering a mild scare from Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who scored 23 of his 33 points in the second half, All-Star Kobe Bryant was held relatively in check on 13-of-33 shooting for a game-high 34 points.
“It was a desperate game for them, so you knew they were going to fight back in the second half,” Stoudemire said. “We kind of had our way in the first half so the second was a more desperate half for those guys. They came out and gave a hard battle.”
The Suns’ win sets up a 2005 Western Conference Finals rematch against the San Antonio Spurs, who also wrapped up their series vs. the Nuggets Wednesday.
In his first Conference Finals appearance two years ago, Stoudemire went off with a series-best 37 ppg in a losing effort against the Spurs, making Sunday’s Game 1 of the Semis that much sweeter for the center.
“I am definitely looking forward to it,” STAT said. “It’s been two years since I’ve played against those guys in the postseason. As a team, I’m pretty sure we’re desperate to get a win. They are a great team. The only thing we can do is sit back and strategize and play hard Sunday.
“We want to keep the tempo up. That’s our style of play, but we also want to take care of the ball with each possession. It’ll take poise and execution. ”
Much like their Game 3 loss in Los Angeles, the Suns squandered a double-digit lead and lost the battle in the paint and in fast break points Wednesday, but it didn’t matter as Phoenix made the most of a game-high 39 trips to the free-throw line and 10 steals.
“I think we played really well, but you have to give them a lot of credit,” Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They would not die. Kobe would not go down. There was a period in there where we just kept scoring, but we couldn’t stop them. That’s to their credit. They did a great job and fought all the way through. I’m just really happy we got the win. Now we have a couple days off, and we’ll see what we can do on Sunday.”
On a night where he became the seventh Sun in franchise history to score 1,000 career postseason points, Shawn Marion left just two rebounds away from becoming Phoenix’s all-time leader in playoff boards.
The recipient of back-to-back alley-oop passes from Steve Nash, The Matrix capped a 10-2 run to seal the win in the fourth quarter.
“We came out aggressive in the first half and we did what we were doing,” said the All-Star forward, who finished the night with 26 points and 10 boards. “We were moving the ball and making extra passes; we were playing great Suns ball out there.”
Hours after becoming a dad for the first time, Raja Bell got off to a quick start with eight points in the opening three-and-a-half minutes of play. After a pair of three-pointers, the Lakers quickly adjusted and held him in check for the rest of the night.
“That was a product of getting looks early,” the shooting guard said. “I felt good, and then they didn’t give me as many looks later and I fell out of rhythm. It’s been that way the whole series. I took what I could get and helped out a little bit.”
Suns center Kurt Thomas came off the bench to close out the last five-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter with eight points, three rebounds, an assist and a block.
“I was finally able to knock down a couple of shots,” he said. “My teammates were looking for me. With Amaré getting into foul trouble, I was able to come in and contribute and build a lead.
“Now we’re going to focus on Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and all the rest of those guys. If we can keep Tony and Tim under control, it’ll be a big blessing to us.”
Coming off his franchise playoff-best 23 assists in Game 4, Nash’s game-high 10 Wednesday was more than the Lakers had combined. It was the 38th time Nash has logged double figures in assists, tying him with Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy for the sixth most double-digit assists games in NBA playoff history. Coupled with his 17-point night, it was the reigning NBA MVP’s 35th career postseason double-double.
The All-Star playmaker averaged over 23 points and 10 assists a game the last time he faced the Spurs in the playoffs two years ago. And as opposed to last season’s postseason run, Nash has a full compliment of healthy teammates at his disposal this go-around.
“With the things that we faced the last two years,” Nash began, “obviously no Amaré and Kurt last year and then Raja went down in the Western Conference Finals – you never know what happens from a game-to-game basis. But our health and the level of play that we have gotten this year have definitely put us in the best position to face them.
“This series is going to come down to how solid we are at getting back on defense, doing the dirty work and fighting for every possession. The offense will take care of itself, but we have to match them with our energy and defense and toughness.”