NBA: Stoudemire's 42 lead Phoenix past Lakers, 118-109
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX — Amare Stoudemire answered his critics with an exclamation point, and there will be no sweep in the Western Conference finals.
Stoudemire matched his career playoff high with 42 points, 29 in the second half, and grabbed 11 rebounds to power the Phoenix Suns to a 118-109 victory Sunday night that cut the Los Angeles Lakers' lead in the series to 2-1.
"Just being aggressive, really going after it," Stoudemire said. "Tonight I wanted to come out with some aggressiveness and get it going."
The Suns can pull even with a victory at home in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Phoenix, dominated inside in the first two games, won with its big men, and a big advantage at the free throw line.
Robin Lopez, whose 7-foot presence gave the Suns some much-needed toughness inside, scored 20 on 8-of-10 shooting in 31 minutes, by far his most playing time since returning from a back injury at the start of the series. Phoenix made 37-of-42 free throws, 14 of 18 by Stoudemire. The Lakers were 16 of 20 at the line.
Kobe Bryant had 36 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Pau Gasol scored 23 points, but the Lakers didn't get as much help from their supporting cast as they did in the first two games.
The Suns, the second-best 3-point shooting team in NBA history in the regular season, were just 5 of 20. But Jason Richardson was 4 of 7, including one with 26 seconds to go to put the lid on the triumph, snapping the Lakers' eight-game playoff winning streak.
Richardson scored 19. Steve Nash had 17 points and 15 assists.
Stoudemire, who had just nine rebounds in the first two games and had been criticized for his lack of defense and absence of fire, scored repeatedly on drives to the basket, when he either made the basket, was fouled, or both. The All-Star power forward, who can opt out of the final year of his contract after this season, made 10-of-12 shots in the second half, scoring 16 in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth.
"My dedication to the game should never be questioned," Stoudemire said. "I always give 100 percent. I try to dedicate my game to the game of basketball. I came out tonight with a chip on my shoulder and it was a must win for us."
The Suns played a lot of zone defense after the Lakers averaged 126 points and shot 58 percent in the first two games. Los Angeles shot 48 percent in this one. The Lakers had a 27-4 advantage in second-chance points, but were outscored 18-3 on fast-break points.
Los Angeles, though, led 90-89 when Lamar Odom made two free throws with 8:47 to play.
Lopez entered the game for the struggling Channing Frye, and Phoenix took the lead for good 91-90 on Jared Dudley's baseline drive with 8:27 left.
Frye missed all seven of his shots, five of them 3s, and is shooting 1 for 20 in the series, 1 for 14 on 3s. He has missed 17 straight shots.