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, which was 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. 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.
“We certainly didn’t come out to play the way I wanted,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “and we certainly didn’t play the way I wanted at the end.”
Richardson scored 19. Steve Nash had 17 points and 15 assists.
Phil Jackson said Andrew Bynum, in early foul trouble, might not play in Game 4 because his ailing right knee is limiting his effectiveness.
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.
“When they started making shots, we had to go to the zone,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tonight it worked and we stuck with it.”