Barbosa's burst upstages Bryant, leads Suns over LakersApr 22, 2007 - 11:50 PM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Leandro Barbosa showed Kobe Bryant a burst of his own.
Barbosa scored 15 of his 26 points in a five-minute stretch as the Phoenix Suns withstood an early barrage by Bryant and rallied for a 95-87 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series.
"He's a one-man fast break sometimes," teammate Steve Nash said.
"We couldn't keep him in front of us," Bryant said. "Whether it was screen-and-rolls or transition, we did a terrible job keeping him in front and he really energized them."
Amare Stoudemire had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Nash added 20 and 10 assists for the second-seeded Suns, who erased a 12-point third-quarter deficit and avoided - temporarily, at least - the hole they dug for themselves a year ago.
Bryant scored 39 points, including 28 in a virtuoso first half as he helped the seventh-seeded Lakers build a double-digit lead. But he lost his stroke in the third quarter and missed 11 of his last 12 shots.
"We didn't execute like we did in that first half," Bryant said. "So as a consequence, my touches became a lot harder. When they were doubling and tripling me in the first half, we did a good job of picking off the ball and I was able to catch it and operate. In the second half, we got away from that."
"I think we put some more pressure on him," Suns forward Shawn Marion said. "We kept doing the same thing we were doing in the first half
As Bryant was cooling down, Barbosa was heating up. In the final two minutes of the period, the Brazilian speedster had a layup and two 3-pointers, including a 30-footer at the buzzer that cut the deficit to 77-74.
"In the third quarter I just tried to be aggressive like I did the whole season," said Barbosa, who made 10-of-22 shots. "I felt real comfortable in the quarter, better than in the first half."
"He puts so much pressure on the defense in the open court," Nash said. "It just takes a lot of pressure off our offense when we're struggling or the game's slowing down. We can give the ball to him and it puts the defense back on their heels and we get a couple buckets in transition."
Barbosa opened the fourth quarter by racing through the defense for a driving three-point play and added another driving layup to give Phoenix its first lead since the opening minutes. He went backdoor for a reverse layup, giving Phoenix the lead for good, 81-79, at the 9:21 mark.
"They tried to slow down the game but that is not the way we like to play, so coach asked me to run up and down," Barbosa said.
"He is just so much faster than anybody else it's unbelievable," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Not only does he have the speed, but he is able to put it up soft and glide it in. I don't know how he can do the two things. I have never seen anything like that."
Bryant sat briefly, returning with just over five minutes to play. He could only watch as Barbosa poked the ball away from Lamar Odom and streaking in for a layup.
On Phoenix's next possession, Barbosa found Stoudemire for a dunk - after going behind the back with his dribble and making the pass while falling down - for a 91-83 bulge with 3:32 to go.
"He went out there and got it going and then they couldn't stop him," Marion said.
Bryant made 15-of-33 shots. His only bucket of the fourth quarter - when the Lakers shot 4-of-21 - was a scoop layup that cut the deficit to 91-87 with 1:42 to go. But Stoudemire scored inside and Nash sank two free throws to seal it.
Marion collected 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Suns, who were outshot (45 percent to 43 percent) and outrebounded (46-40) but committed just eight turnovers.
"I don't know what you can attribute the offensive struggles to, but that's something that I don't think will be a factor very long," Nash said. "We didn't necessarily play sharp or up to our potential offensively, although we got a lot of good shots." Odom had 17 points and 16 boards for the Lakers, who had just 13 assists on 38 hoops and attempted only 11 free throws. They will try again here Tuesday.
"I thought we played well enough to win but they play a little bit better," Odom said. "The reason they are so good is they play the same way all the time and we have to find a way to do that."
This is the second straight first-round meeting between the teams. A year ago, the Suns rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series, withstanding a 50-point eruption by Bryant to win Game Six in overtime and raced to a rout in Game Seven, when Bryant was criticized for deferring to his teammates in the second half.
When the teams last met April 13, Bryant managed just 17 points on 7-of-26 shooting in a 93-85 loss as he was somewhat shackled by familiar foe Raja Bell. That effort came between 50-point explosions, and the two-time scoring champion set out to prove it was an aberration.
Bryant got off to a quick start, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the first period. At the same time, Phoenix stumbled out of the blocks with just five hoops and six turnovers in the first quarter that dug a 23-18 hole.
"He was just hitting some tough shots - double-clutching and hanging," Marion said. "When he is hitting shots like that, what more can you do?"
Things got worse before they got better for the Suns. Odom had three short buckets and Bryant drained a jumper for a 35-23 advantage with 7:26 left in the second period.
Phoenix finally got untracked with one of its familiar flurries. Marion and Nash hit 3-pointers in a 14-2 burst that tied it in a matter of minutes and sent Los Angeles into a timeout.
Bryant emerged again, scoring the Lakers' last 11 points of the half. He drained a jumper and three 3-pointers - all but one of the shots coming from the right wing - as LA rebuilt its lead to 48-39 at halftime.
"I think that sometimes there's not a whole lot you can do, and the first half was great example of that," Nash said. "We did a relatively good job on him the first half, and he had 28. But we don't need to feel like we didn't do our job and hang our heads."
LA LAKERS 87
PHOENIX 95 FINAL
Apr 22 5:25 PM
LA LAKERS 77
PHOENIX 74 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 22 4:50 PM
LA LAKERS 48
PHOENIX 39 HALFTIME
Apr 22 4:04 PM
LA LAKERS 23
PHOENIX 18 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 22 3:48 PM
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