There aren’t many NBA teams that can get outrebounded 49-32, allow 68 points in the paint, surrender 20 offensive rebounds and come away victorious. But then again, there also aren’t many teams that can shoot the three ball like the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns overcame their defensive and rebounding ineptitude by drilling the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers with a franchise-best 22 three-pointers (one short of the NBA single-game record) en route to a 121-116 win in Staples Center Sunday night.
“We put guys in the gym by themselves. It’s tough to shoot that percentage from three,” Kobe Bryant told Suns.com. “They made some tough, contested (three-pointers) and just shot the lights out. It was almost a historical NBA three-point shooting performance.”
Pau Gasol dominated the paint with 28 points and 17 boards, Bryant was one rebound away from a triple-double with a 25-9-14 stat-line, and Lamar Odom shredded the Suns’ defense for 22 points and 11 boards.
But none of that was enough to slow down the Suns’ three-point onslaught, as Phoenix lit up the Lakers from distance early and often, combatting LA’s size and strength the only way humanly possible.
“We can’t walk it up the floor against their length,” Steve Nash told The Associated Press. “You see Pau against us, it looks like he’s playing with a nerf hoop on the back of someone’s bedroom door. So we had to make them play in transition, spread the floor and make it a game of speed and skill rather than size.”
The Suns shot 55 percent from the land of plenty on the night, led by seven from a lights-out Jason Richardson (35 points, eight rebounds), five from Hedo Turkoglu (17 points) and four from Channing Frye (20 points and six boards).
Goran Dragic also knocked down three triples, Nash (21 points and 13 assists) hit two and Jared Dudley drilled one to round out Phoenix’s record-breaking three-point downpour.
“You just feel like the basket is huge and that every shot you throw up is going to go in,” Richardson said. “(Coach) Alvin (Gentry) was calling plays for me and my teammates were finding me. It was just fun to have a night like that.”
Despite the three-point barrage, the Lakers still got within three, down 112-109 with 53 seconds left. But Turkoglu finally lived up to his clutch label, knocking down a 26-footer with 34 seconds remaining to all but ice the game and give the Suns their first regular season win in the Staples Center since Jan. 17, 2008.
But the Suns certainly weren’t in the driver’s seat for all 48 minutes. In fact, it was looking pretty grim for Phoenix early on as the Lakers pounded the Suns on the glass and Gasol picked up a double-double in less than 15 minutes of action.
Robin Lopez left the game with a sprained knee halfway through the second quarter, and the Lakers’ interior attack didn’t look like it was slowing down anytime soon. But the Suns battled back in typical Phoenix Suns fashion — jacking up three after three.
With a sharp-shooting lineup of Nash-Richardson-Grant Hill-Turkoglu-Frye, the Suns chose to live and die by the three. Fortunately for Phoenix, it lived, rattling off a 16-2 run in 1:58 to turn a 46-40 deficit into a 56-48 lead.
Richardson, who was untouchable all night shooting 13-for-20 from the field and scoring 34 of his 35 through three quarters, dropped in two triples during the run and the Suns went into halftime with a 63-56 lead. J-Rich went for 18 in the first half, while Frye accounted for 11 points and four boards.
The Lakers came out of the locker room on a 6-2 run to regain the lead, but the Suns regained their stroke on their way to a 36-point third quarter behind 16 from J-Rich. Richardson was knocking down everything in sight, and the Suns went into the fourth up 92-84.
The Suns scored a ridiculous 69 points in the second and third quarters combined and rode that hot streak into the fourth quarter. J-Rich scored only one point in the final period, but the Suns didn’t even need it, as Nash scored 12 in the quarter and Frye limited Gasol to only four fourth-quarter points, including a crucial block as the Lakers trailed by five with 2:13 left.
While J-Rich did most of the damage in the scoring department, Frye had one of his best all-around games as a Sun, knocking down shots, defending Gasol when it mattered most and stepping in as the Suns’ only so-called “center” with Lopez out.
It is concerning it took 22 triples to beat LA, and the way the Lakers abused the Suns down low is certainly something to worry about. But the fact that the Suns beat the Lakers with no prototypical big man says a lot about the character and cohesion of this team. They played to their strengths — up-tempo, with no conscience — and it worked against the gigantic Lakers.
“That’s what we do, it really is, we usually don’t shoot 40 of them. I think when we get in the open court, with the way we have to try to play right now, we have Hedo who can shoot them and Channing who’s a three-point shooter,” Gentry said. “And we try to take their guys away from the basket. Steve does a great job of penetrating and pitching, and when we’re shooting the ball well from three we’re pretty good.”
The Suns probably won’t drill 22 three-pointers again for the rest of the season. But wins like this bring teams together, which couldn’t come at a better time for a squad searching for continuity. If the Suns hit their stride, feed off chemistry and rise to the occasion in their next three games against Denver, Miami and Orlando, this is the game to look at as the reason why.
Dudley fell into Lopez’s right knee with 6:04 left in the second quarter. Lopez limped off on his own power and returned back to the bench after a short stint in the locker room. The Suns called it a sprain, but it doesn’t look all that serious for the third-year center. … Richardson is playing as well as any two-guard in the NBA through nine games, averaging 22.3 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from three and splashing more triples than any other player in the league. … Turkoglu’s performance was very encouraging, as he played big minutes down the stretch for seemingly the first time all season hit a clutch three along the way. He continued to live on the three but also finished a nice driving layup during the Suns’ 16-2 run. … The Suns weren’t great defensively, but they did force 18 Lakers turnovers and played at an up-tempo pace that’s been missing at times this season.