Suns, Spurs Advance in NBA Playoffs

Thursday, May 3rd 2007, 7:52 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) _ The Phoenix Suns completed their mastery of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers with a methodical 119-110 victory Wednesday night to win the best-of-seven opening-round series in five games.

Phoenix advanced to a Western Conference semifinal matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Denver Nuggets 93-78. Game 1 is Sunday at Phoenix.

Bryant ended his season in unmasked frustration and expects management to do something in the offseason to make the Lakers a contender again.

``Do it and do it now,'' he said. ``Personally for me, it's beyond frustration _ three years and still being at ground zero. This summer's a big summer. We have to see what direction we want to take as an organization and make those steps and make them now.''

The Lakers were eliminated in the first round for the second straight year by the Suns and haven't won a playoff series since 2004, when Shaquille O'Neal left Los Angeles.

Amare Stoudemire scored 27 points and Shawn Marion added 26, and the Suns overcame an inspired performance by Lamar Odom and a late scoring binge by Bryant.

``We tried to give them a fight to the finish,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, ``but we just couldn't finish up this ballgame. Second shots, foul shots, etc., kept us from making this a tight game.''

The Lakers never led Wednesday, trailing by 15 points in the second quarter and 16 with 5:52 to go. They kept coming back, but the Suns held them off.

``It was, I guess, a fairly comfortable situation,'' Phoenix's Steve Nash said. ``It never got real desperate. We didn't obviously blow them out, but I thought we did a good job. We weren't real sharp, but that's a tough situation. They had nothing to lose. Everyone expects them to be out.''

Odom, playing the whole series with a hyperextended elbow and torn shoulder cartilage, had a career playoff-high 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, but it was Bryant who put the final scare into the Suns.

The NBA scoring champion, after an uneven night, made consecutive 3-pointers to cut what had been a 16-point fourth-quarter lead to 111-106 with 2:53 to play. Marion made a floater, Stoudemire hit one of two free throws, and the Suns came up with two crucial offensive rebounds on a late possession to help put the game away.

``You have to give them credit,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``They would not die. Kobe would not go down.''

Bryant _ defended by new father Raja Bell _ scored 34 points but was just 13-of-33 from the field. Bell was playing on precious few hours of sleep after spending the night at a hospital, where his wife gave birth to their first child six hours before Wednesday's tipoff.

Nash also struggled, shooting 5-for-15 and committing seven turnovers. He scored 17 points and had 10 assists, four in the decisive fourth-quarter stretch. Stoudemire, 15-of-21 at the foul line, also had 16 rebounds. Marion had 10 boards.

``We just got beat by a team that was really focused and played together,'' Odom said. ``They beat us pretty handily.''

Leandro Barbosa, winner of the NBA's Sixth Man Award, had eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter on two early 3-pointers and a breathless fastbreak layup on a halfcourt pass from Nash.

There were just enough big plays to keep the Lakers at bay.

``We weren't real sharp,'' D'Antoni said. ``We had a couple of turnovers. Steve had seven turnovers, which is very uncharacteristic of him. We pulled it out, and that's what counts. The game is over and we have three days to think about San Antonio.''

Barbosa's layup on the long pass from Nash put the Suns ahead 104-91, then Bryant was called for a technical foul. Nash's free throw made it 105-91.

``He felt he was getting fouled on four subsequent plays,'' Jackson said. ``We told him to fight through that and keep moving the basketball, and we'd find a way to do it.''

Last year in the first round, Phoenix had to rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Lakers in seven games. With Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas back from injuries, this Suns team needed no such drama.

``We wanted to get this over with,'' Marion said. ``I think everybody had their spurts in this game where they did something great for us, and that is what it's going to take.''

Spurs 93, Nuggets 78

Michael Finley scored 26 points and set a San Antonio playoff record with eight 3-pointers as the Spurs advanced.

Tim Duncan had 23 points and 12 rebounds and Tony Parker added 16 points and 10 assists for the third-seeded Spurs, who dropped Game 1 to the Nuggets at home before winning the next four in the first-round series.

Allen Iverson, who was 6-for-22 in struggling from the field for the fourth straight game, and Carmelo Anthony both had 21 points for the Nuggets, while NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby had 19 rebounds.

Finley hit his sixth 3 with just over nine minutes to go and his seventh came halfway through the fourth quarter as the Spurs took an 82-71 lead. His last 3 came with about 2 1/2 minutes left to make it 89-76.

Denver has not won a playoff series since 1994, when they beat Seattle in a best-of-five to become the first No. 8 seed to knock out a No. 1.