The final minutes of last night's game between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers at US Airways Center were pulse-pounding, but Planet Orange ultimately lost to their Pacific Division rivals by a score of 99-95.
Although Jared Dudley was definitely the star of the night, leading the Suns with 21 points and six rebounds, it was Steve Nash and Vince Carter who provided a shot at squeaking out a victory against Los Angeles in the waning moments of the game.
The Suns had managed to bounce back from double-digit deficits all evening, including from a 16-0 run by the Lakers in the second period, and nipped at their opponents' heels until the closing seconds of regulation.
And while Carter, Nash, and Dudley led the Suns in their battle, Robin Lopez looked like he wanted to surrender. Head coach Alvin Gentry paired RoLo with newcomer Marcin Gortat in the starting lineup in the hopes that two physical titans would nullify such El Lay giants as Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum.
It was an interesting experiment that produced decidedly mixed results, as all three aforementioned Lakers dominated the boards against Phoenix's tall men. (Lopez eventually left the game in the second quarter with only a single bucket, while Gortat managed to redeem himself with 12 points for the night.) In addition to killing on the glass, Bynum and Odom were on fire in the first half as Los Angeles shot out to substantial leads with 44.9 percent shooting.
But where RoLo and Gortat failed, Dudley and a few other bench players thrived. The Suns forward exploded in the second period with 15 points to help his squad bounce back and reduce a 12-point Lakers lead to one by halftime. The Suns came out of the intermission fired up (kicking off the third period with a Carter jump shot), only to cool quickly as L.A. grabbed the reigns and scored 14 of the next 17 points.
Planet Orange didn't roll over and die, however. They not only managed to cut the score to only a basket in the third (right before Kobe Bryant and his team opened an 80-73 lead to end the quarter), and gave their visitors a tough time into the fourth.
With the Lakers leading 92-84 following 23-foot jumper by Kobe, the Suns scored seven straight points, topped with a huge trey to make the game 92-91 with around two minutes to go. Thanks to Bryant, Ron Artest, and Derek Fisher (who hit a sweet jumper from the paint), Los Angeles went up 99-92 with only 45 seconds left on the clock.
And what a 45 seconds it was. Channing Frye fired off a 24-foot three-pointer to draw the Suns to within four and Steve Nash grabbed a clutch defensive rebound after Kobe Bryant's shot went off the glass. He passed over to Carter, who was being closely guarded by Pau Gasol. It had the makings of a game-tying four-point play, as the former Orlando Magic star was well within three-point range with 10 seconds left, and Gasol looking like he was about to unleash a shooting foul.
Unfortunately, the 7-foot Spaniard chose to stuff the shot instead and the Lakers wound up winning by four.
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The Suns will have today off to rest before they'll host the New York Knicks and Amar'e Stoudemire, in his first return to the Purple Palace. Stat has been coming up big since his move to Gotham, averaging 26.4 points a game (the best in the Eastern Conference), and has done much to revitalize and reverse the fortunes of the team.
A year ago, New York and the Suns were in completely opposite positions in the standings: The Knicks were stuck with a losing record while Planet Orange was staying competitive in their division with an outside chance at postseason glory. Stoudemire has proven in New York that he doesn't need Nash to shine, and is thriving under former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni and his "speedball offense."
The homecoming for both Amar'e and D'Antoni takes place on Friday night at US Airways Center. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Arizona. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. For more information, go to www.suns.com.