Sunday , Apr , 29 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Nash, Suns push Lakers to brink of elimination

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Steve Nash scored 17 points and dished out
a career-high 23 assists to lead the Phoenix Suns over the Los Angeles Lakers,
113-100, in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series at
the Staples Center.

Amare Stoudemire had a team-high 27 points and grabbed 21 rebounds for the
Suns, who hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven set. Shawn Marion
added 22 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix, which will try to close out the
Lakers in Game 5 on Wednesday back at home.

“We just played better,” said Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni. “We moved the
ball better. Our spacing was good. We have our system and it worked pretty
well.”

Kobe Bryant had 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for Los Angeles,
which won Game 3 after dropping the first two games in Phoenix. Lamar Odom
added 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who never led in the second
half, falling behind by as many as 20 points.

“They were a better team than we were in everything,” said Lakers head coach
Phil Jackson. “Steve was the difference in the ball game. He was much better
today than in the last game.”

Having already ended the first half with eight straight points, the Suns kept
the pressure on in the second half, scoring eight of the first 10 points.
Stoudemire’s free throw with 2:38 gone in the third quarter ended the 16-2 run
that dated back to the first half, giving Phoenix a 66-53 lead.

The Suns’ advantage later reached 14 points, 71-69, following a Nash jumper
and Phoenix carried that same margin into the fourth, 85-71.

In the final quarter, Phoenix extended to an 18-point lead, 95-77, following a
string of seven straight points. Then, with 5:24 left, a pair of Stoudemire
free throws gave the Suns a 20-point lead, 103-83.

The Lakers never drew within single digits the rest of the way.

“We talked about being in the right spots and being more aggressive,” said
Nash. “I wanted to put the pressure on myself to make passes. We were a little
sharper today and didn’t give them the opportunity to trap us.”

Leandro Barbosa had 16 points for the Suns, who won three of the four regular
season meetings against the Lakers.

Smush Parker and Maurice Evans each had 11 points and Kwame Brown tallied 10
for Los Angeles, which was also ousted from the postseason last year by the
Suns.

“They made their adjustments to what we were doing,” said Bryant. “We have to
do a better job of closing guys out and making their shots tougher.”

Down 15-14 midway through the first quarter, Marion started a 17-7 surge with
a dunk. Nash later ended it with a driving layup with 2:53 remaining for a
31-22 lead that allowed the Suns to cruise into the second with a 33-28
cushion.

The Lakers scored 10 straight points early in the second quarter, turning a
35-28 deficit into a 38-35 lead. Evans drained a pair of threes to start the
run, which Bryant ended with a jumper at the 9:12 mark.

Phoenix, though, answered with a 12-2 run to take the lead for good.
Stoudemire had six points during the burst, capping it with a dunk with 4:39
left until the break for a 47-40 cushion.

Los Angeles eventually drew within 50-49 after a Brown three-point play, but
the Suns scored the final eight points of the half to go into the locker room
with a 58-51 lead.

Game Notes

Nash recorded his 37th 10-plus assist game in the playoffs, moving him into
seventh all-time on the NBA list…Phoenix shot 48 percent from the field,
compared to 44 percent for the Lakers…The Suns hit 24 free throws (24-of-31)
while the Lakers went only 13-of-17 from the line.

LAL PHO