Reporting from Phoenix -- So much for keeping up with the Celtics.
The Lakers blinked before their Boston counterparts did, many times in fact, getting shoved aside by Amare Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns, 118-109, in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday at US Airways Center.
Something funny happened on the way to a 3-0 series lead, though the Lakers weren't giggling after Phoenix ended their eight-game winning streak and closed to within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Tuesday in Phoenix.
The Lakers were flummoxed by the Suns' zone defense, got another no-show from injured center Andrew Bynum (two points, two rebounds, four fouls) and witnessed the return of Lamar Odom to playoff mediocrity, the 6-10 forward coming perilously close to a single-single with only 10 points and six rebounds after starting the series with a strong two-game push.
There were other issues as well, such as hoisting a team playoff-record 32 three-point attempts (making only nine), not to mention the 20-point effort the Lakers surrendered to Suns center Robin Lopez, who only recently came back from a 52-day absence because of a back injury.
Above all, there was Stoudemire, who had 42 points and 11 rebounds, answering critics who scoffed at his uninspired play through two games, including a puny 4.5-rebound average.
Bad day for the Lakers. The Suns aren't ready to set yet.
"You expect them to have a breakout game at some point in the series," Kobe Bryant said.
The Suns indeed had a break, Steve Nash's nose, which was fractured when he ran into Derek Fisher but didn't stop him from a 17-point, 15-assist effort.
The Suns also had many more free-throw attempts, making 37 of 42 while the Lakers made only 16 of 20 from the line, though there were no complaints from the visitors, who felt the Suns deserved what they received.
"They attacked the hoop today and earned 42 foul shots," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Bryant almost had a triple-double (36 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds), but got remarkably little help other than from Pau Gasol (23 points on 11-for-14 shooting) and Fisher (18 points).
Odom made only four of 14 shots, Ron Artest was four for 13, and Shannon Brown was two for seven.
The Suns went with a zone offense in the second quarter and used it throughout the rest of the game, daring the Lakers to beat them from outside.
Jackson took particular offense to one of Artest's three-point attempts, with the Lakers down eight and 3:07 to play. Jackson and Artest had words during a timeout with 2:42 left, Jackson jawing at his starting forward only to have Artest yell back at him.
There were other bizarre signs for the Lakers — Jackson picking up a rare technical foul after complaining about a non-call by referees, and Bryant admonishing Nash by yelling at him to "stop flopping" after getting called for charging into the Suns' guard.
There was even the suggestion that Jackson sit Bynum for a game if the center didn't look any better because of torn cartilage in his right knee.
"I'll talk to him and see what his suggestion is about it and how he feels about it," Jackson said. "I think he was ineffective out there."
Bynum said he didn't want to sit out a game but acknowledged he wasn't effective.
"That's obvious," he said.
Jackson seemed mildly irritated by Bynum before the game, noting the 22-year-old had been quoted a day earlier about facing Boston in the NBA Finals. It was a bit premature for Jackson's liking.
"There's a moment we'll call a brain [cramp] in our business," Jackson said. "He wasn't thinking very clearly right there."
In the end, as the Suns outscored the Lakers in the final quarter, 32-25, their fans weren't greedy, declining to chant "We want Boston" and settling instead for the more conventional "Beat L.A."
Their wish came true Sunday.
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