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 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 31 minutes, by far his most playing time since returning from a back injury at the start of the series. Phoenix made 37-of-42 free throws, with Stoudemire going 14-of-18. The Lakers took 20 free throws and made 16.
Kobe Bryant had 36 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for Los Angeles. 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’ 5-of-20 accuracy from 3-point range belied their status as the second-best 3-point shooting team in NBA history.
But Jason Richardson made four of seven 3-pointers, 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 for Phoenix. Steve Nash had 17 points and 15 assists.
Nash banged his nose in a collision in the fourth quarter. He said he didn’t believe it was broken but would see a specialist before practice today.
Jackson said Andrew Bynum, in early foul trouble, might not play in Game 4 because his ailing right knee is limiting his effectiveness.
“I’ll talk to him and see how he feels about it,” Jackson said. “I think he was ineffective. There were some things that got by him.”
Stoudemire, who had nine total rebounds in the first two games and had been criticized for his lack of defense and absence of fire, scored repeatedly on drives to the basket, when he either made the basket, was fouled, or both.
The All-Star power forward, who can opt out of the final year of his contract after this season, made 10-of-12 shots in the second half, scoring 16 in the third quarter and 13 in the fourth.
“My dedication to the game should never be questioned,” Stoudemire said. “I always give 100 percent. I try to dedicate my game to the game of basketball. I came out tonight with a chip on my shoulder and it was a must win for us.”
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said he knew Stoudemire would respond.
“He knew he didn’t play well in L.A.,” Gentry said.
As for Lopez, Gentry called the second-year pro’s offense “a big surprise.” Lopez had been out since March 28 with a bulging disk before playing in this series.
The Suns played a lot of zone defense after the Lakers averaged 126 points and shot 58 percent in the first two games. They held Los Angeles to 48 percent shooting in this one. The Lakers had a 27-4 advantage in second-chance points, but were outscored 18-3 on fastbreak points.
“When they started making shots, we had to go to the zone,” Gentry said. “Tonight it worked and we stuck with it.”
Lopez entered the game for the struggling Channing Frye, and Phoenix took the lead for good 91-90 on Jared Dudley’s baseline drive with 8:27 remaining.