|Grant Hill: 23 points in a losing effort.|
Well, it was fun while it lasted. From February through the end of the regular season, the Phoenix Suns were one of the most consistently solid teams in the NBA, then they made quick work of playoff foes the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. But now, it looks as though the party may be over, thanks to consecutive schoolings of the Suns by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
On Wednesday night in L.A., the Lakers dominated the fourth quarter en route to a 124-112 win, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals. Translation: The Suns must win four out of five against the best basketball team in the land to stay alive. The only good news here? The series moves to friendlier turf for game three (5:30 p.m. Sunday) and game four (6 p.m. Tuesday) at US Airways Center.
So far in this series, the Suns haven't had a problem scoring (they had 107 in game one and 112 in game two), but they haven't been able to stop the Lakers from scoring. Even with the Suns' more defense-minded approach this season, they've allowed the Lakers to simply run wild: 128 points on Monday and 124 points on Wednesday.
The Suns have had no answer for Phil Jackson's famed triangle offense, which worked like a charm in the fourth quarter Wednesday night. They hung in there for much of the game, even finishing up the third quarter in a 90-90 tie. But that was a mirage, as the Lakers saved their best for last. With the Suns double-teaming Kobe Bryant, the Lakers superstar dished off to Pau Gasol, who scored 14 of his 29 points in the fourth and helped the Lakers pull away. Bryant wound up with 13 assists.
Jason Richardson led the Suns with the 27 points, and Grant Hill had a strong game with 23 points, but Amar'e Stoudemire was held to only 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. And the key to so much of the Suns' success in the second half of the regular season and the playoffs, its second string, was almost a non-factor Wednesday. Channing Frye was 0-5 shooting and Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa were equally neutralized, combining for just six points. Only Jared Dudley was somewhat effective, contributing 15 points. Meanwhile, the Lakers' reserves scored 36 points, including 17 from Lamar Odom (he also had 11 rebounds) and 11 from Jordan Farmar.
The Lakers hit nearly 60 percent of their shots from the field, compared with the Suns shooting just under 50 percent.
"We still scored enough points tonight," said Steve Nash after the game. "But when they can score 120-something, that's asking the offense to score too much. If we're going to beat them, we have to find a way to slow them down." Nash ended up with 11 points and 15 assists. He took only eight shots in the game.
Historically speaking, there's more bad news: After taking a 2-0 lead, the Lakers have lost only one series but have won 41 of them.
Game three at US Airways Center will be televised on TNT. Radio coverage will be on KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.suns.com