(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)
May 2, 2007
The Phoenix Suns didn't exactly run the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs. Nudged them out is more like it.
Amare Stoudemire scored 27 points and Shawn Marion added 26, and the Suns overcame an inspired performance by Lamar Odom and a late scoring binge by Kobe Bryant to beat the Lakers 119-110 on Wednesday night.
The Suns won the best-of-seven first-round series in five games and advanced to a Western Conference semifinal matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, who eliminated Denver earlier in the evening. Game 1 of the series is Sunday afternoon in Phoenix.
The Lakers never led Wednesday, trailing by 15 points in the second quarter and 16 with 5:52 to go, but they kept coming back.
Odom, playing the whole series with a hyperextended elbow and torn shoulder cartilage, had a career playoff-high 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, but it was Bryant who put the final scare into the Suns.
The NBA scoring champion, after an uneven night, made consecutive 3-pointers to cut what had been a 16-point fourth-quarter lead to 111-106 with 2:53 to play. Marion made a floater, Stoudemire hit one of two free throws, and the Suns came up with two crucial offensive rebounds on a late possession to help put the game away.
Bryant -- defended by new father Raja Bell -- scored 34 points but was just 13-of-33 from the field. Bell was playing on precious few hours of sleep after spending the night at a hospital, where his wife gave birth to their first child six hours before Wednesday's tipoff.
The Suns' Steve Nash also struggled, shooting 5-for-15 and committing seven turnovers. He scored 17 points and had 10 assists, four in the decisive fourth-quarter stretch. Stoudemire, 15-of-21 at the foul line, also had 16 rebounds. Marion had 10 boards.
Leandro Barbosa, winner of the NBA's Sixth Man Award, had eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter on two early 3-pointers and a breathless fastbreak layup on a halfcourt pass from Nash.
Phoenix won the game at the free throw line, going 31-of-39 to the Lakers' 20-of-28.
Barbosa's layup on the long pass from Nash put the Suns ahead 104-91, then Bryant was called for a technical foul. Nash's free throw made it 105-91.
Marion's consecutive dunks on passes from Nash gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 109-93, with 5:52 to play.
The Lakers, down 64-52 at halftime, cut the lead to two in the third quarter.
Bryant's two free throws with 3:39 left punctuated an 11-2 run that cut Phoenix's lead to 80-75, then it was 85-83 after Kwame Brown's inside basket with 1:30 to go in the third. Brown, fouled on the play, missed the free throw that could have made it a one-point game.
In the final 49 seconds of the quarter, Stoudemire sank a 14-foot fadeaway jumper from the baseline, then Barbosa made an acrobatic driving bank shot and the Suns eked out a 91-85 lead entering the fourth.
It was the second straight year the Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round. A year ago, Phoenix had to rally from a 3-1 deficit. With Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas back from injuries, this Suns team needed no such drama.
Bell, who said before the game he was on "a natural high," sandwiched a driving layup around two 3-pointers in the game's first two minutes.
Thomas came in after Stoudemire drew his second foul with 5:39 to play in the first. In the remainder of the quarter, Thomas was 4-of-5 shooting -- three from outside 15 feet -- for eight points, grabbed three rebounds, had two assists and blocked a shot.
Phoenix led 32-23 after one and built a 35-23 lead after Barbosa made three of four free throws in the first 54 seconds of the second quarter.
Stoudemire scored four points in an 8-0 Phoenix run that put the Suns ahead 49-34 on Marion's fastbreak basket with an assist from Barbosa.
Notes: Phoenix was 1-2 against the Spurs in the regular season. ... The Lakers failed to make it past the first round for the third straight year, the first time that's happened since 1992-94. They didn't make the playoffs in 1994 or 2005. ... James Jones of the Suns opened the game with a four-point play, hitting a 3-pointer and a free throw following a foul by Luke Walton.
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