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Lakers have no answer for Phoenix reserves in 115-106 Game 4 loss to Suns

May 25, 2010 | 10:24 pm

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It had long been thought the Phoenix reserves would prove to be the X-factor against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

They made significant contributions in the regular season and playoffs. The Lakers' bench played rather inconsistently, mixing in moments of greatness with poor performances that either cost the Lakers games or placed more responsibility on the starters to close the game out.

Yet the Lakers had maintained that edge, holding a 19-point advantage in the first two games.

Fast forward to Game 4 Tuesday and you have a completely different story. The Suns tied the series at 2-2 with a 115-106 Game 4 victory over the Lakers, largely because Phoenix's reserves outscored the Lakers' bench, 54-20. Surely, there were other elements to the Lakers' loss.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant nearly had a triple double with 38 points on 15 of 22 shooting with 10 assists and seven rebounds, an effort that seemed almost wasted considering he attempted only one shot the first quarter. The Lakers also appeared more equipped against the Suns zone compared with their Game 3 loss, but the Lakers still worked for their shots, shot nine of 28 from three-point range and allowed Phoenix to cash in on easy baskets. But the Lakers could have overcome those problems had they not allowed the Phoenix reserves to make an 18-7 fourth-quarter run to close out the victory.

Instead, the Lakers loss guarantees the series will last at least through Saturday in six games, and the NBA Finals will start June 3. The Lakers still own home-court advantage and, after Oklahoma City tied the first-round series 2-2, responded in appropriate fashion by winning two consecutive games. But Phoenix will return to Staples Center for Game 5 Thursday with more confidence than after it left last week winless through two games.

After the jump is a breakdown of how the Sun's fourth-quarter run put the game away.

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Fourth quarter, 10:32 -10:23

After Phoenix forward Louis Amundson flashed up top to set a pick on Lakers forward Lamar Odom, Suns guard Leandro Barbosa pulled up for a jumper. Lakers guard Jordan Farmar tried to contest the shot, but he reacted too late, and the shot tied the game at 87-87. The Lakers would never lead after that point.

Fourth quarter, 10:15 - 9:47

On the next possession, Phoenix played in a 2-3 zone and prevented the Lakers from getting a good look. Farmar passed to Bryant on the left block but quickly met a double team. Bryant kicked the ball out to Farmar, who pulled up for a 26-foot three-pointer. The shot rimmed out, and Phoenix center Channing Frye grabbed the board. On the other end, Frye ran a screen-and-roll on Farmar up top for guard Goran Dragic. After meeting a double team from Farmar and Odom, Dragic swung the ball back to Frye, who zipped the ball on the far end to forward Jared Dudley. Lakers guard Shannon Brown confronted Dudley on the perimeter, but he pump faked and then drove the lane. Lakers center Andrew Bynum went to help, but he left Amundson open backdoor. Dudley then fed Amundson the ball inside for the easy layup, giving the Suns an 89-87 edge.

Fourth quarter, 8:16 - 8:07

Though the shot clock had gone down to three after Odom and Bynum each picked up a foul, Frye nailed an open three-pointer that Odom contested late. Dragic met heavy pressure from Farmar, but he managed to find Frye open with the Lakers mostly packing it in inside. The trey widened the Suns' lead to 92-87.

Fourth quarter, 7:33 - 7:20

Once Amundson set a pick on Farmar, Bynum went up top and switched on Dragic. After Dragic passed the ball on the far end to Frye, Bynum dropped back with Brown covering the paint guarding Amundson. That left Barbosa wide open on the nearside corner, causing Dragic to fire a pass from end line to end line. With Bynum in the paint, he tried intercepting the pass, but the ball sailed over his head. Bynum raced out to the perimeter once Barbosa caught the pass. But he had plenty of space and sank the three-pointer, giving Phoenix a 95-89 lead.

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Fourth quarter, 7:06 - 6:47

With the Suns still in a 2-3 zone, Bryant found Farmar on the near corner unguarded. As soon as Bryant fired the pass, however, Phoenix immediately shifted, with Dragic confronting Farmar. He fed an entry pass to Bynum, who quickly passed the ball back to Farmar as soon as Dragic slid over. After Farmar's wide-open three rimmed out, Amundson boxed out Odom and cleaned the glass. Moments later, Dragic ran the break, crossing past Farmar into the lane. Bryant caught up to help, while Brown confronted Dragic from down low. But Dudley stood open on the nearside corner. Bryant reacted quickly and contested Dudley's shot, but it went in and widened the gap to 98-89. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called timeout and inserted Pau Gasol for Bynum, Ron Artest for Brown and Derek Fisher for Farmar.

Fourth quarter, 5:38 - 4:37

The timeout illustrated two things. The Lakers' substitutions showed Jackson's trust that his starters could help the Lakers stage a comeback. Alvin Gentry's decision to stick with his reserves as well as continuing to sit Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire showcased the Suns coach's trust in his bench. It turns out the Suns' strategy worked. On this play, Fisher didn't see Bryant flailing his arms up and down as he drove the lane and then cut to the nearside corner. With the shot clock down to five seconds, Bryant called for the ball again. But Fisher attempted a corner three, which Frye blocked. On the other end, Amundson set a screen on Fisher, Dragic dribbled around Gasol, and Amundson rolled inside. Frye then curled to the nearside perimeter and caught Dragic's pass before finding Amundson down low. He missed the lay-in but drew a foul on Odom, converted on one of two free throws and gave the Suns a 99-89 lead.

Fourth quarter, 4:54 - 4:37

After Odom missed his second free throw, Amundson fought over Artest for the rebound. On the other end, Dragic manned the point against Fisher. Meanwhile, Barbosa flashed across the lane to the far perimeter, while Frye set a downscreen on Bryant. Odom appeared oblivious to the screen since Barbosa essentially cut across the lane directly behind him, causing Bryant to curl around Frye to catch up with Barbosa. But Dragic found Barbosa open on the left block, and he nailed a jumper to give the Suns a 101-90 advantage.

Fourth quarter, 4:28 - 4:01

On the next possession, Odom drove baseline and fed the ball inside to Gasol, whose shot Amundson blocked. On other end, Dragic manned the point up top against Fisher, dribbled left, crossed to his right and then spun past Fisher at the free-throw line. Odom attempted to help, but Dragic switched to his right hand and converted on the layup, widening the gap to 103-90.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo, top: Phoenix guard Goran Dragic, left, takes a rebound away from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during Game 4 on May 25, 2010. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Photo, middle: Phoenix guard Leandro Barbosa, right, shoots over Lakers guard Derek Fisher during the first half. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Photo, bottom:  Bryant takes control of the ball in front of  Dragic. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


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