Bryant takes over in fourth as Lakers burn SunsApr 27, 2007 - 7:34 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Things are back to status quo for Kobe Bryant. But it hardly went as expected for the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.
Hearing chants of "MVP" from the crowd, Bryant scored 15 of his 45 points in the final period as the Los Angeles Lakers held on for a 95-89 victory over the Suns, who now hold a two-games-to-one lead in the first-round series.
But Bryant's teammates did not leave him out there by himself. Lamar Odom collected 18 points and 16 rebounds and Kwame Brown had a career playoff-high 19 and six for the Lakers, who held a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass and shot 16 more free throws - punishing the Suns in the paint.
"There's nothing that you could do besides just play harder," Bryant said of the series deficit. "When you're in this position - you're down 2-0 - you can put your tail between your legs and run, or stay and fight.
"I made a statement earlier in the week that this game would be a good indicator to see how many fighters we have on this team. And to a man, everybody stepped up and responded to the challenge."
Odom, who had challenged his squad after Game Two's loss, gave credit to his teammates for not folding their tents.
"This was the first time in a long time that we took the other team's best punch, and after we did that, we were able to recover," Odom said. "In boxing terms, get our feet back under us. We came out swinging. Kobe had a great performance and we played great team defense."
Bryant was the difference during crunch time. The top fourth-quarter scorer in the NBA, Bryant had only scored two points on 1-of-10 shooting combined in the final periods of the first two games of the series. On Thursday, the All-Star guard turned that all around.
Involving his teammates for the first three periods, Bryant had that look in his eye in the fourth - scoring through, around or over a pack of Suns defenders on nearly every possession.
But he preferred to talk about the team's collective energy.
"We played well. We played aggressive, particularly on defense," Bryant said. "We played aggressive, and that kept us in the ballgame. We made a lot of mistakes offensively. When you have that hustle, when you play really hard, particularly on the defensive end, you still give yourself a chance to win."
After Leandro Barbosa's 3-pointer tied the game, 89-89, with two minutes left, the Lakers scored the final six points of the contest. Four came from Bryant, including two on a remarkable fadeaway jumper over Raja Bell to make it 93-89 with 54 seconds left.
Judging by the first two contests in the series, the Suns did not expect this kind of play from the Lakers - even with Bryant on the floor. Phoenix rolled to a 126-98 victory on Tuesday.
"You have to give them credit," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They played hard and jumped on us. Things were (going so well) at the beginning that human nature kind of took over, and we weren't expecting the kind of intensity that they put up. We righted the ship, but Kobe down the stretch was too tough to handle."
"It is difficult (staying motivated) up 2-0. I think sometimes things are going so well that the many ways things shift take some of the pressure off them in a lot of ways," Phoenix guard Steve Nash said. "I think the fans, the referees, it's human nature. Everyone kind of feels that and is fueled by that. It was a definite shift in momentum."
Looking to come out quickly after poor performances in the first two games, the Lakers did the opposite. Phoenix scored the first 11 points of the game, capped by a monster alley-oop dunk by Amare Stoudemire - forcing a timeout by Los Angeles with 9:36 left.
However, the All-Star forward picked up two fouls in the first four minutes, giving little-used reserve Kurt Thomas some meaningful minutes in the opening period. As a result, the Lakers stormed back into the game.
Trailing by 14 points after the opening period, Los Angeles outscored Phoenix, 57-39, in the second and third periods before turning it over to Bryant in the final 12 minutes.
"We had a hard time getting started in this ballgame," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Phoenix came out and hit their first seven shots and made it real difficult. We weren't aggressive and played from behind. We went into the locker room at halftime and gave ourselves a chance to come back in the second half."
Bryant was 15-of-26 from the floor and 13-of-13 from the free-throw line, while Odom and Brown combined to shoot 16-of-31 from the field for Los Angeles, which shot 42 percent (34-of-81) from the floor and 22-of-28 on foul shots.
"We didn't stop Kobe," D'Antoni said. "I don't think anybody stops Kobe. Sometimes you have good games, sometimes you have bad games, and Kobe's one of the best.
"But the bottom line is, they shot 42 percent. Kobe got 45, but that doesn't really matter. Kwame getting 19 points hurts. Odom had a good game. They got 19 offensive rebounds, and that's the whole game."
Game Four will be in Los Angeles on Sunday and there might be some animosity between the teams leading up to tip-off.
On the game's final play, with the outcome already decided, Lakers guard Smush Parker went in for a dunk. But Bell fouled him from behind, sparking angry words from D'Antoni as the teams walked off the floor.
Stoudemire collected 24 points and 10 rebounds and Barbosa scored 20 for Phoenix, which shot 48 percent (36-of-75).
"You can't underestimate a team," Stoudemire said. "(The Lakers) probably can't play better, but we definitely have to in order to win. We've got a game Sunday. We've got time to think about it and recuperate and be ready for Sunday's game."
LA LAKERS 95 FINAL
Apr 27 1:20 AM
LA LAKERS 74 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 27 12:38 AM
LA LAKERS 48 HALFTIME
Apr 26 11:50 PM
LA LAKERS 17 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 26 11:13 PM
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