At that stage, with the home crowd booing, Lakers star Kobe Bryant figured there were two directions his team could take.
“You can put your tail between your legs or come back fighting,” he said.
The Lakers went with option No. 2.
Bryant scored 15 of his 45 points in the fourth quarter, Kwame Brown added a career playoff-high 19 points, and the Lakers beat the Suns 95-89 to cut Phoenix’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“It was effort,” Bryant said after the Lakers won by scoring the game’s last six points. “You can go over execution and X’s and O’s all you want. What you have to have is effort.”
Brown, hampered by a sprained left ankle for nearly four months, scored eight more points than his combined total in the first two games.
“He played well from the beginning of the game,” Bryant said. “He didn’t get discouraged when he didn’t finish plays.”
Brown looked like he might be finished in this game when he rolled his right ankle with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. But not only did Brown stay in the game, he scored nine points during the remainder of the period.
“I was like ‘Oh no, not again.’ But it’s OK,” Brown said. “It’s swelling up a little bit, but I’ll be OK.”
Game 4 will be played Sunday at Staples Center, with the fifth game Wednesday night in Phoenix, where the Suns embarrassed the Lakers 126-98 in Game 2.
Bryant scored only 15 points in that game after getting 39 in the opener, although he shot 1-of-10 in the final period of a 95-87 loss. He was much better in the fourth quarter of this game, shooting 5-of-11 to finish 15-of-26, and added four foul shots in as many attempts.
The odds remain against the Lakers, since only 11 of 193 teams in NBA history have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. But an NBA team has never won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games, so this was a victory they had to have.
“We still have the pressure on us,” Brown said.
Bryant added six rebounds and six assists, and Lamar Odom had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers.
The Lakers won the game at the foul line, shooting 22-of-28 to Phoenix’s 8-of-12. Los Angeles outrebounded the Suns 44-35.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Things were so easy at the beginning. Human nature took over. Kobe down the stretch was too much to handle. They got 19 offensive rebounds—that was the game.”
A 3-pointer by Bryant and a basket by Odom gave the Lakers an 83-75 lead with 9:55 to play. The Suns drew within three points before failing to score on three straight possessions. Bryant then drove for a layup with 3:29 to play, making it 89-84.
Two free throws by Stoudemire and a 3-pointer by Barbosa tied the game at 89 with 2:03 left, but the Suns wouldn’t score again.
Odom’s basket with 1:45 remaining put the Lakers ahead for good, and Bryant added a tough turnaround jumper from the left baseline with 57 seconds to go. He made a pair of foul shots with 20 seconds left to clinch the victory.
“I thought they played harder than we did,” Nash said. “And we didn’t stick to our game plan like we did in the first two games. We were a step slow and we weren’t in the right spots. Defensively, we need to concentrate and be in the right spots.”
Stoudemire said he believes the Suns let the game slip away, in part due to their 15 turnovers.
“We had a chance to put them away,” he said. “They shot the ball well, Kobe was on fire. Game 4 will be a different story. We normally take care of the ball, but they were the aggressor.”
The Suns made their first five shots—all jumpers—for a quick 11-0 lead, prompting a timeout from the Lakers and boos from the Staples Center crowd of 18,997.
Stoudemire picked up two fouls in the first 4 1/2 minutes, but the Suns kept hitting from outside, and led 31-14 late in the first quarter. Phoenix was 13-of-16 at that stage including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
The Lakers battled back, and trailed by only three points at halftime.
Brown’s previous career playoff high was 17 points in Game 6 of the Suns-Lakers first-round series last spring. … The Suns are 10-2 in regular-season games against the Lakers during the past three seasons. … The Lakers are 55-26 overall in best-of-seven series, including 33-9 in the first round. … The Suns are 2-2 after winning the first two games in a best-of-seven series. Their losses were to the NBA champion Houston Rockets in the 1994 and 1995 Western Conference semifinals, both in seven games. … Nash has 10 or more assists in 36 playoff games, tying him for seventh in NBA history with Oscar Robertson.