Suns Eliminate Lakers in Decisive Fashion
PHOENIX (AP) _ The Phoenix Suns went from the brink to a blowout, from the edge of elimination to one of the most impressive turnarounds in NBA playoff history.
So much for the nail-biting suspense of a Game 7. The fast, feisty Suns won in a 121-90 laugher over the listless Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
Leandro Barbosa led the layup parade with a career playoff-best 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting and the Suns became the eighth team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-1.
``I am going to steal a line from Disney and say it’s a small world after all,″ Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. ``I guess small guys can play. That’s about as good as we could play. Every one of our guys, I can’t pick out one, all of them had an amazing game.″
That all-L.A. second-round series that looked so probable a few days ago vanished in a blur of Suns’ fast breaks and repeated drives to the basket.
Instead, the Clippers will come to Phoenix for Game 1 of the second-round series on Monday night.
``It’s a shame we couldn’t have given them a better game,″ said the Lakers’ Phil Jackson, who lost a first-round series for the first time in his coaching career.
Kobe Bryant scored 24 points of 8-of-16 shooting, but the rest of the Lakers starters were 17-for-50. Bryant scored only one point and took just three shots in the second half.
``If we were going to get back in this type of game, we have to have everybody contributing,″ Bryant explained.
He said his team played about as well as it could in taking its 3-1 series lead, then couldn’t keep up when the Suns found their footing.
``They just have a lot of talent over there,″ Bryant said, ``a lot of firepower. They stepped up to the challenge and kept coming at us in waves. We just didn’t have enough in the tank to hold on.″
The Brazilian Barbosa and Frenchman Boris Diaw led the way. Diaw had 21 points and nine assists as seven Suns scored in double figures. Phoenix’s turnaround can be traced directly to the improved play of Barbosa and Diaw.
``Tonight, Boris and Leandro were our best players,″ Steve Nash said. ``The two guys that people said were disappointing in the beginning of the series, I think they are accustomed to the series now and they lost their virginity, so to speak, in the seventh game.″
Nash, who had 13 points and nine assists, sprained his right ankle late in the first half and was not as nimble as usual after that.
``It is the same ankle I tweaked a couple of months ago and the swelling went down finally just a week ago,″ he said. ``It is encouraging that I could move around on it the second half, and with a day and a half of rest, I think it will be fine for Monday.″
Shawn Marion had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix.
Raja Bell returned to a hero’s welcome from a one-game suspension for throwing Bryant to the floor in Game 5. He scored 13 points and drew three offensive fouls against Bryant.
``We’ve got bigger fish to fry now,″ Bell quipped, a reference to Bryant’s derisive comments about him after a regular-season game.
Jackson lost for the first time in 45 series where his team had the lead.
The Lakers _ after losing 126-118 in overtime at home in Game 6 Thursday night _ barely offered resistance Saturday night, cutting the lead to single digits only once after falling behind 28-13 in front of a raucous packed house.
The Suns started the first quarter with a 16-6 run and ended it with a 12-2 spurt. They made 14 of 20 shots for 70 percent, while the Lakers were a bumbling 6-for-20.
With the Suns leading 20-13, Barbosa sank a 13-footer and a layup, then dished off to Marion for a stuff in an 8-0 surge that put Phoenix ahead 28-13 with 1:15 left in the first.
After Kwame Brown, who was 1-for-5 in the first quarter, made two free throws, Bell made a 20-footer and Barbosa two free throws to put Phoenix ahead 32-15 after one.
Barbosa’s layup to start the second quarter made it 34-15. Bryant cut the lead to single digits, 45-36, with a 3-pointer 6:21 before halftime. But Bell followed with a 3, then Bryant was called for an offensive foul. Replays showed Bryant elbowed Bell to the face, the kind of play the Suns’ guard had complained about throughout the series.
Tim Thomas’ stuff with 5:32 remaining in the half put Phoenix ahead 50-36.
Bryant’s 21-footer as the shot clock expired cut the lead to 50-40, but the Suns scored the next six with Diaw’s two free throws making it 56-40 with 51 seconds to go.
Nash left the court with a slight limp after stepping on Marion’s foot on the play but returned in the second half.
Bryant made a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining, then Diaw sank a 20-footer with 1.1 seconds to play and Phoenix led 60-45 at the break.
Notes: The Clippers and Suns split their season series 2-2. ... Barbosa scored 48 in the final two games of the series. ... Brown finished 2-for-10 shooting. ... The Lakers’ Smush Parker was 7-for-37 shooting the last three games.