Nothing was quite as it was supposed to be Sunday when the Suns
escaped with a 107-102 victory over Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We certainly didn't play very well," said Suns point guard
Steve Nash. "We look at that as a positive. We didn't play well
and we found a way to win, and we've got a lot of improvement to
Tim Thomas had 22 points and a career playoff-high 15 rebounds
for the Suns, who nearly succumbed to coach Phil Jackson's game
plan of taking the small Phoenix lineup inside, then turning to
Bryant to finish it off.
Thomas was sent home by the Chicago Bulls for what they thought
was a bad attitude for most of this season, then released and
signed by Phoenix on March 3. He made his first eight shots and
finished 8-for-10, 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
"I was just aggressive on both ends," Thomas said.
Nash had 20 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with 1:07 to
play, and 10 assists.
The Suns made 32 of 35 free throws, 8 for 8 by Nash.
"The Phoenix Suns set a record for fewest free throws in the
league," Jackson said, "and here they have 35 free throws. This
is a team we told our guys not to foul, and we end up sending them
to the line 35 times. That was one of the things we didn't expect
Bryant, the NBA scoring champion with 35.4 points per game,
scored 22 points -- little more than half the 42.5 he averaged
against Phoenix in the regular season -- on 7-for-21 shooting, 1 for
6 3s. But Lamar Odom had 21 points and 14 rebounds and Luke Walton
matched his career best in any NBA game with 19 points.
"Our game plan was to exploit the middle and do the things we
wanted to, but he [Bryant] was still supposed to be a force over on
that side of the offense," Jackson said. "I just felt he never
really got in rhythm until the end, and we said 'Just go after
Even for Bryant, Jackson said, it's tough to turn it on after
spending most of the game working the ball to others.
"He was a little more passive than usual," Suns coach Mike
D'Antoni said. "He missed some shots that he normally makes."
But Bryant said he felt good about the series.
"It's just a matter of finding that groove," Bryant said. "We
can really attack this team inside, and so that's what we're going
to do. All I need is one jumper to go, and I'm hot."
After a 39-point first quarter, the Suns rarely got their
trademark high-speed game in gear.
Trailing by as many as 14 in the second quarter and down 58-50
at the break, the Lakers used an uncharacteristically balanced
attack and took advantage of the Suns' poor shooting to tie it at
75 after three quarters.
Sasha Vujacic's 3-pointer from the top of the key gave the
Lakers their first lead since early in the first quarter, 80-79,
with 10:01 to play. Thomas returned to the game and sank the Suns'
first 3-pointer since the opening quarter to put Phoenix back ahead
82-80 9:25 from the finish.
Bryant missed four shots over the next 2½ minutes and the Suns
used free throws -- two by Nash and four by Barbosa -- to go up 88-82
with 6:21 left.
The Lakers scored six in a row to cut it to 98-95 with 2:12
remaining. Smush Parker, who had 15 points, missed what would have
been a game-tying 3-pointer. Raja Bell missed a running 14-footer,
but Diaw tipped the rebound to Nash, whose 3-pointer put Phoenix
ahead 101-95 with 1:07 left.
Nash took the shot with his coach screaming to bring the ball
outside to run out more clock.
"I didn't hear him. I wasn't going to listen to him anyways,"
Nash said. "We really kind of just struggled through the game, so
when I saw that ball coming off to Boris I knew I was going to get
a great look. I wasn't going to pass it up and pull it out and see
what we got later. I was going to make it, and that's all there is
Jackson lost Game 1 of the playoffs for the first time in
his career. ... Vujacic made a bank shot from beyond midcourt at
the first-quarter buzzer, but it was waved off by officials and
replays confirmed the call. ... The Lakers were without Chris Mihm
because of a sprained right ankle that sidelined him 17 of the last
18 regular-season games. ... The Suns' Brian Grant had a bad
stomach and played the final three seconds of the first half only.