Western Conference Finals Recap - Game 3
(3) Phoenix 118, (1) L.A. Lakers 109 - Lakers lead series, 2-1
Orlando and Atlanta, that's how you compete when you're trailing two games to none in a playoff series.
A dose of welcome resilience was re-introduced to a flagging NBA postseason on Sunday night at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. While the Eastern Conference playoffs have witnessed a couple of quit jobs from Atlanta and Orlando (plus a lie-down-and-die non-effort from the Cleveland Cavaliers after being tied at two games apiece with the Boston Celtics), the Phoenix Suns actually displayed some backbone in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Instead of submitting to what many people considered to be inevitable, Coach Alvin Gentry's team resisted the urge to pat itself on the back after an overachieving season. The Suns - who have done far better than anyone expected back in November - could have been satisfied with reaching the NBA's final four. They could have allowed talk of a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals showdown to begin in earnest. Phoenix could have submitted to the sweep which seemed to be an increasingly likely occurrence.
They chose to put up their dukes and compete in a way their Eastern Conference brethren never did.
Amare Stoudemire - who looked both impotent and foolish after the first two games of this series - responded with an inspired and imposing 42-point performance that was as situationally necessary as it was athletically impressive. Stoudemire's stupid comments about Laker forward Lamar Odom combined with lackadaisical defense and a minimal attention span, gave way to a mature and locked-in performance Suns fans were hoping for. The player with jersey No. 1 was indeed the prime reason Phoenix got off the deck and earned added respect around the NBA on Sunday.
Stoudemire wasn't alone, though, in giving this series at least some small degree of intrigue heading into Tuesday's Game 4.
Robin Lopez - still not 100 percent healthy - looked a lot better than he did in Games 1 and 2. The Stanford pivot produced a 20-point outing on 8-of-10 field goal shooting, injecting some much-needed low-post offense into the Phoenix attack at just the right time. If this Lopez can show up for the rest of the series, the Suns will have the counter they need to Odom and his Laker teammate, Pau Gasol, who finished with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
The other big difference maker in this contest was much more a reflection of the Lakers' deficiencies than the Suns' boldness. To a substantial degree, coach Phil Jackson's reigning world champions allowed the contours of the series to shift. The Lakers shot 32 3-pointers, making only nine. Odom - who played a terrible game and conceded far too much real estate in the painted area - consigned himself to the perimeter instead of mixing it up near the rim. Odom hit only 4 of 14 shots, but what's more of an indictment of his performance is that the rangy forward grabbed only 6 rebounds. if Odom doesn't bounce back in Game 4, this brief interruption in L.A.'s forward momentum could become something more significant.
The smart money is still on L.A.'s side in this series, but if Game 4 offers more surprises, the Lakers could begin to sweat. At least for one night - Tuesday - the outcome of this best-of-seven battle will be in doubt.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Guest Writer
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