Totally Eclipsed

PHOENIX — The Lakers came to their final resting place in the desert, quietly and decisively, looking nothing like the team that held a convincing lead in a series that so quickly spun out of their control.

The Phoenix Suns ran and the Lakers took cover, carving out pieces of history that don't look good on paper, much less on hardwood, in a 121-90 loss Saturday at US Airways Center.

The Lakers never lost a Game 7 like this — their worst Game 7 defeat had been a 113-99 loss to New York in the 1970 NBA Finals — and the Suns became only the eighth team in league history to win a series after trailing, 3-1.

Kobe Bryant had 24 points, only one in the second half, Luke Walton had 16 points and no other Laker had more than 12.

What was a cozy series lead dissipated quickly amid the revival of the Suns, who averaged 120.3 points over the final three games.

"I knew that it was a serious possibility given the fact that the team we're up against has a lot of firepower," Bryant said. "I knew that we were playing extremely, extremely well. And I knew that they had a notch that they can go to, and they went to it and we couldn't keep up."

The Staples Center hallways won't have quite the same vibe in the next round, with the Clippers advancing further than the Lakers for the first time since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles. The Suns play host to the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Monday night.

Neither Phil Jackson nor Bryant had lost a first-round series in their respective positions, but Jackson fell to 14-1 as a coach and Bryant to 8-1.

The Lakers had their moments in the series, many more than expected, actually.

There was Smush Parker's steal and Walton's tie-up of Steve Nash, followed by Bryant's dual buzzer-beaters in Game 4.

There was a share-the-ball mantra that stabilized their offense and carried them to three victories.

There was a buzzing defense that held the Suns under 100 three consecutive times.

The bone in their throat will be Game 6, when Tim Thomas' three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left forced overtime, at which point the Suns reasserted themselves as the series favorites.

Jackson, who had been 44-0 in series in which his teams led, seemed somewhat apprehensive before Game 7.

"The concern is that the game gets away," he said. "Momentum gets away from you, there's extended runs or a lack of focus."

Or all of the above.

The Lakers shot way too early in the shot clock — sometimes with 17 seconds left — and when they did remember to work the ball down to Kwame Brown, they weren't rewarded. Brown had eight points on two-for-10 shooting.

There was also that team-sharing thing that went asunder almost as soon as the game started.

The Lakers had one assist in the first quarter, by Brown, and only three in the second quarter. They finished with 10 in the game. The Suns had 24.

Bryant had 23 points in the first half as the Lakers trailed, 60-45. He missed all three of his second-half shots.

"Did he score in the second half? I couldn't remember him scoring," Jackson said. "Obviously the other guys had to come alive. I'm sure Kobe could have [mustered] up a 50-point game, but that wasn't going to put us in the ballgame. I trust his judgment in that ballgame."

Said Bryant: "If we were going to get back in this type of a game, we had to have everybody contributing."

Bryant made eight of 16 shots and had one assist in 43 minutes.

Sun fans didn't care who did or didn't score for the Lakers, booing Bryant whenever he touched the ball and holding up plenty of pro-Raja Bell signs, one of which read, "It's not Raja's fault Kobe can't limbo."

The Laker deficit swelled to 90-65 by the end of the third quarter, at which time Sun yell leader Cedric Ceballos, a former Laker, pulled out a handmade sign with "Clippers" written on it and exclaimed into his microphone that it was "Time for the Clippers."

Indeed, the Lakers' time had come.

Their season had its pros and cons. It was certainly better than last season's 34-48 effort, although there was a nagging inability to close out close games and, for most of the season, a tug-of-war to stay above .500.

Along the way, Bryant hit for 81 points against Toronto and won his first scoring title by averaging 35.4 points.

Then came the end of the regular season, punctuated by an 11-3 run, and the belief that things might be turned around after the Lakers bolted to their lead against the Suns.

It didn't last. Neither did their season.



By the Numbers


Phil Jackson's record in first-round playoff series


Teams that have come back from 3-1 deficits in playoff series


Kobe Bryant's shots in the second half


Kobe Bryant's points in the second half


Suns' biggest lead in Game 7


Lakers' biggest lead in Game 7


Suns' shooting percentage in Game 7


Lakers' shooting percentage in Game 7


Average score in four Suns' victories


Steve Nash's scoring average in the series


Remaining Los Angeles teams in the playoffs


Slipping away

Teams that have won a best-of-seven series after being down 3-1 (* won championship):

Phoenix vs. Lakers, 2006 Western Conference first round

•  Detroit vs. Orlando, 2003 Eastern Conference first round

•  Miami vs. New York, 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals

•  Houston vs. Phoenix, 1995 Western Conference semifinals *

•  Boston vs. Philadelphia, 1981 Eastern Conference finals *

•  Washington vs. San Antonio, 1979 Eastern Conference finals

•  Lakers vs. Phoenix, 1970 Western Division finals

•  Boston vs. Philadelphia, 1968 Eastern Division finals *