With Bryant on the bench, this game belonged to Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the opening period. The two combined for 21 points in the first 12 minutes, and it became clear that they would be the ones putting points on the board from start to finish.
When Nash and Howard left the floor for the first time, Phoenix was able to get back on track. The Lakers went just 2-of-9, and the Suns put together a 14-4 run.
This would prove to be a common theme throughout, but the bigger problem—as it’s been most of the season—was defense. No matter who was on the floor, L.A. was giving up open looks, and Phoenix was allowed to shoot nearly 50 percent on the night to L.A.’s 33.
Along with a lack of defensive effort, the Lakers were plagued by slow starts to each period. Inefficient shooting dug them in holes, and it would take late-quarter execution to simply make this a game of runs.
Unfortunately for L.A., the fourth quarter proved to be the one time they couldn’t make up the difference. The team found itself down 16 with just five-and-a-half minutes to go, and awful play on both sides of the court led to them being outscored 28-10 by the league’s ninth-worst offense.