Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers 109 at Phoenix Suns 118 - NBA Western Conference Finals Game 3 - May 23, 2010

Jump ball

When the Phoenix Suns defeated San Antonio in round 2 of the NBA playoffs, I knew that they would be playing sometime around the time I would be visiting the city. But the NBA initially scheduled only the first two games that were to be played in LA. I worried that they might set games 3 and 4 in conflict with the Jays games that I was planning to see, but NBA commish David Stern is a regular reader I guess as he kindly set game 3 for Sunday evening at 5:30, about an hour after the Jays game would probably end. So after Toronto hammered Arizona 12-4, I walked over to the US Airways Center to see if there were tickets available.


My friend Sharpy had purchased a single from a scalper that morning but I wanted to wait until closer to game time for a couple of reasons. First, if the baseball game went long, I didn't want to leave early, and secondly, I wanted to check the box office so I could avoid a trip to the ATM. It's just a couple of minutes from Chase Field to US Airways Center, and the ticket windows were surprisingly empty. After being searched, I made my way to the Advance Ticket Window, where there was nobody waiting. I asked if they were selling for tonight's game and was happy to hear that there was a single in 4th row of the upper deck in a corner. Not the best seat but as it turned out, not that bad at all, especially for a last minute purchase.

US Airways Center

It was a drastic sensory change leaving the red and black clad fans of the Diamondbacks and walking a couple of blocks to where the Suns fans in their bright orange colours waited outside the outside of the arena, with liberal sprinklings of Laker fans sporting their trademark purple and gold. Upon entering the seating bowl, we were subject to an even more colourful display as every seat was covered with an orange T-shirt, courtesy of a local grocery store.

Yeah, free T-shirts! The Suns' playoff theme is "WE R ORNG" as it would be texted, so everybody had to wear the shirts. Of course, Laker fans were happy to throw their shirts away, so some fans got two or three shirts. Christmas presents for the family!

Anyway, I didn't have much time to wander around but can say that the upper concourse is far too narrow for a sold-out game. It took about 10 minutes during halftime to make the walk around and the lineups for the concessions and facilities were quite long. I'd recommend purchasing your food before the game.

The good thing is that the upper deck is actually quite close to the floor. The arena, opened in 1992, was designed for basketball and the suite level is quite small, so the upper bowl seats are good value. With only 14 rows up here, even the nosebleeds are more than acceptable.

There was an out-of-town scoreboard that showed the MLB and WNBA scores, but neglected to tell us the Chicago-San Jose result in the NHL. This doesn't bode well for the future of the Coyotes, who once called this arena home. But it is really much better for basketball, the design fits the smaller hardcourt properly, unlike a typical hockey arena where the corner and end seats are just too far away from the action.

The Game

The Lakers had won the first two games of the series, so this was a must-win for Phoenix. Both teams came out on offense but Phoenix was driving to the basket and drawing fouls while LA was kept to the outside by the Suns' defense. At one point the Suns were 18/20 from the free throw line while LA was 0/1 and both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were in foul trouble. But the Lakers were making most of their shots while the Suns missed some easy ones. At the end of the first, the Lakers led 32-29 with Kobe Bryant netting 15 points.

Bryant grabs a rebound

In the second though, Phoenix went to a zone defense and LA couldn't adapt. The last five minutes saw the Suns go on a 15-2 run to lead 54-47 at the half.

Steve Nash looks to pass

The third quarter saw the Suns' Amar'e Stoudamire explode for 20 points but the Lakers were solid shooters and actually won the quarter by 5 points to head to the final stanza down 86-84.

Pau Gasol shoots over Stoudamire while Derek Fisher tries a three below

The fourth quarter was back-and-forth for the first few minutes and with 7:35 to go, the Suns held a 93-92 lead. But after Stoudamire drained two free throws, Ron Artest made a bad pass and the Suns quickly broke down the floor. Steve Nash found Jason Richardson in the corner and Richardson sank a 3 that brought the crowd to its feet. After a Laker timeout, Bryant missed a 3 and Stoudamire knocked down a two-pointer to make it 100-92. Bryant added 4 free throws to narrow the deficit to 4, but Stoudamire continued his dominance, driving to the basket for two more. Lamar Odom then fouled out and after Robin Lopez made both shots, Nash added a jumper to make it 102-92 with just 2:48 left. The fans were delirious and although the Lakers got within 6, Phoenix held on for the 118-109 win.

Stoudamire finished with 42 points and 11 boards and has perhaps given pause to his critics. It was a great performance and with Lopez adding 20, the Suns have served notice that the series is not yet over. Bryant added 36 points but many of those were after the game was decided.

Robin Lopez muscles to the basket

Overall, this was a great game, lots of scoring and 12 lead changes. The NBA playoffs have been terribly dull, but perhaps this is a chance for a great series. Game 4 is set for Tuesday night in Phoenix and if the Suns can keep it up, we should be on for a great finish to see who gets to play Boston in the final.

Nash gets 15 assists (and only 1 turnover)

Next up

I'm in Anaheim right now and just about to head over to the Jays-Angels game, for which I will add a post in a couple of days. Tomorrow I fly back to Japan (hence missing game 4) where I'll be taking it easy for the Stanley Cup Finals and the World Cup. I'll add some posts on LA and some other sports happenings in the meantime, so check back in a few days for lots of new stuff.



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