LOS ANGELES -- Kwame Brown didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' biggest game in a year.
Supporting cast at last
Which, for once, didn't seem to bother anyone around here.
With the best third quarter he's ever played, Kwame might have done as much to save the Lakers' season as the guy who scored 15 points in the fourth and 45 overall.
Debatable (or delusional) as that sounds, Brown certainly convinced a sellout crowd at Staples Center that he really was the game-changer in the Game 3 that L.A. had to have to have any playoff life left.
We know that because the most maligned Laker of them all, after rolling his ankle and playing on, was the recipient of a standing ovation in that third quarter.
As well as at least two "Kwa-mee, Kwa-mee, Kwa-mee" chants.
Followed by Kobe Bryant comparing him postgame --with only a mild chuckle -- to Willis Reed.
Talk about playoff upsets.
There's obviously no way the Lakers erase an early 17-point deficit, then hang on for a 95-89 victory over the Suns if Kobe doesn't log 45 minutes and match that with his point total. Yet even with Bryant's eruption -- quite a response after he managed just 26 points over six quarters in this series after his 28-point first half in Game 1 -- this was more Kwame's revenge than Kobe's.
"He had his way tonight," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who must've been wondering whether he was ever going to be able to say so again.
Jackson is the biggest, loudest Kwame skeptic in town, but he also knows that the Laker who frustrates him more than any other is critical to L.A.'s hopes of slowing Phoenix down. In the teams' seven-game epic last season, Brown was an inside force until Game 7, bulling his way to the rim against the smaller Suns. Yet in this series, Brown has clearly been bothered by the presence of Amare Stoudemire after an injury-plagued regular season in which his famously suspect confidence dipped further.
But credit Brown for taking advantage of Stoudemire's Game 3 foul trouble. Even though two quick fouls in each half naturally cut into Amare's defensive aggressiveness, Brown still had to respond. The result: 19 points through three quarters to set a career playoff high.
The standout sequence came with just under five minutes left in the third, when Brown landed on Stoudemire's foot in the lane and twisted his right ankle. Defying his reputation by staying out there, Brown reeled off a flurry of four baskets in a span of 2:40, three of them dunks.
The moment didn't last, but it proved to be a significant burst in support of Bryant's brilliance, Lamar Odom's 18 points and 16 boards, and all-around Lakers improvement.
"We basically had an AA meeting yesterday," Jackson said before tip-off. "We did some crying, we did some whining and we did some recognition of our responsibilities."
It took more than a quarter to see any improvement. Figuring that his team had bottomed out with the 28-point humiliation it suffered in Tuesday's Game 2 in Phoenix, Jackson instead watched the Suns score on nine of their first 12 possessions and not even graze the rim with their first five shots. The hosts were trailing, 31-14, in the final minute of the opening quarter.
Then Phoenix relaxed -- "Things were so easy in the beginning that human nature took over," Mike D'Antoni lamented -- and the series at last became a series. L.A.'s ball movement suddenly turned crisp and its defense turned up, both in transition (holding Phoenix to 10 fast-break points) and with some hard, disruptive trapping of Steve Nash on pick-and-rolls that had limbs flying at Nash every time he turned a corner.
Yet you only get one guess for what bothered the Suns' coach most.
Besides the Lakers' 19 offensive rebounds, four of which were snared by Brown?
"Kobe got 45, but that doesn't matter," D'Antoni said. "Kwame getting 19 hurts."
No exaggeration: Kwame getting 19, as much as anything, is why his pal Phil Jackson has still never had a team fall behind 3-0 in a series.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (22 points) works against Yao Ming during Utah's 81-67 win in Game 3.
Tayshaun Prince? In terms of sizzle, the rail-thin small forward is often as overlooked and forgotten as the fifth Beatle. But in terms of actual importance, Prince could be the X factor for a Detroit team that looks focused and fixated on winning another NBA title.
Prince almost single-handedly did in the upstart Orlando Magic in Thursday's Game 3, scoring 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds, handing out five assists, swiping three steals and hitting three 3-pointers. His play helped the Pistons win 93-77 and put Detroit on the verge of its first series sweep since 1990.
"He's the one guy on our team that nobody talks about, but he goes out there and is kind of like the silent assassin," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "He goes out there and kind of floats around and has the ability to make big shots at the end of the shot clock."
Prince was at his best in the clutch moments Thursday night, repeatedly breaking Orlando's spirits with dead-eye jump shots. He had a 22-footer with two seconds left in the first half, then stole the inbounds pass and got the ball to Billups for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. And he hit another 3-pointer with a second remaining in the third period to put Detroit firmly in control of the game.
"Those are big things that can really change the tempo of the game, momentum swingers," said Prince, who is averaging 17.7 in the series and shooting 53 percent from the floor. "The one before the half and the one at the end of the third quarter, they really helped us keep control of the game."
Prince was so good in the clutch Thursday that he had the Magic sounding like a broken basketball team. Said a glum Jameer Nelson: "They hit shots that normal teams just don't hit."
-- John Denton in Orlando
Kobe Bryant scored 45 points in the Lakers' 95-89 win over Phoenix. It was only the fifth postseason game in NBA history in which a player scored at least 45 points with his team scoring no more than 95 points.
The other players to do that were George Mikan (1952 Lakers), Shaquille O'Neal (1997 Lakers), Michael Jordan (1998 Bulls) and Tracy McGrady (2003 Magic).
Kobe's 45 Gets Lakers Back In Series
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Lakers center Kwame Brown's 19 points, his career playoff high, helped Los Angeles take a Game 3 win over the Suns.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
With a number of international players taking dominant roles in the NBA, the stigma of being a "foreign" basketball player is slowly wearing away.
I first started covering the international phenomenon in 2002, when I traveled to Italy to watch the Euroleague Final Four in Bologna. I was there to watch two international stars who were thinking about making the jump to the NBA -- Manu Ginobili and Marko Jaric. They played together in the same backcourt and wowed me with the sophistication of their games.
The next day, I traveled by train to Treviso to check out an 18-year-old prospect that local coach Mike D'Antoni (yes, that Mike D'Antoni) was promoting -- Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
You know how things have gone: Ginobili is amazing Jaric has been so-so Skita was a bust.
Over the next few years, I traveled around Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Russia watching prospects work their way toward the NBA.
Make a list of the best player at each position. If your list looks like mine, three of the five names will be non-American -- Steve Nash at point guard, Yao Ming at center, and either Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki at power forward. Only at the wings does American talent have a choke hold on the top spot.
So perhaps it's no accident that the NBA's last bastions of Americanness are struggling. Only two teams had an all-American roster this year, and both are wobbling. The Knicks struggled to a 33-win season despite a bloated payroll, and the defending champion Heat find themselves halfway to elimination against a Chicago team whose three key international players have torn them to shreds.
Overall, 85 players from overseas were on NBA rosters this season, and though some made only brief cameos (nice knowing you, Andrea Glyniadakis), many others have made huge impacts. Duncan, Nash and Nowitzki are the most obvious examples -- if you pencil in Nowitzki as this year's winner, they've accounted for five of the past six MVP trophies.
Chris (Boston): So now that Rick Carlisle is out in Indy, please tell me the Celtics will be going after him. His highly structured style seems to be just the thing that the young C's need (well, unless they get Kevin Durant).
Chad Ford: I think Carlisle is a great guy but why aren't folks a little more concerned that he's lost two high-profile coaching gigs, despite some real success. I think Carlisle is brilliant, but his style of coaching really wears down players. I also think his style ties the hands of a GM.
Carlisle loves certain types of players and has very little use for others limiting what a front office can do to bring in talent. I think he'd bring some discipline to the Celtics, but can you name one young player he's developed, with the possible exception of Danny Granger, in his coaching career? I think a veteran team may be a better fit for Carlisle.