(Sports Network) - All hope looked lost for the Phoenix Suns after the team suffered a pair of emphatic losses in Los Angeles during the first two games of the Western Conference finals.
But, things can change greatly in a week and the Suns now have a chance to even their set with the reigning NBA champion Lakers if they can capture Game 4 at US Airways Arena tonight.
Home cooking has proved to be the difference so far in the West finals and Phoenix got back in the series Sunday night when Amare Stoudemire erupted for a career playoff- high-tying 42 points to go with 11 rebounds, as the Suns took a 118-109 Game 3 victory over the Lakers.
Phoenix had been abused in the post in losing the first two games in LA, but Stoudemire's valiant effort, coupled with a 37-of-42 showing from the free throw line, helped the team cut its series deficit to 2-1.
"We came out with great intensity. It was an important game. We had to get this one and we played well," Stoudemire said. "I was ready. I wanted to attack their bigs a little bit and get them into foul trouble."
Robin Lopez put in 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, Jason Richardson added 19 points and Steve Nash contributed his usual 17 points and 15 assists for the Suns despite suffering a broken nose in the fourth quarter when Derek Fisher went for a steal.
"We did a good job tonight and now we have to put all of our focus on Tuesday to try to win another game," Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said.
Kobe Bryant finished with 36 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for Los Angeles, which committed 17 turnovers against a confusing Phoenix zone compared to just seven for the Suns.
"Some of them were bobbled balls, dribbling with a toe out of bounds. Some of them came from their zone." Bryant said of the giveaways. "We were expecting them to have a breakout game at some point in this series."
Pau Gasol scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Fisher netted 18 points for the Lakers, who had their eight-game winning streak broken.
Lamar Odom, after averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds in the first two games in LA, had 10 and six before fouling out. Andrew Bynum, battling a knee injury, played an ineffective 7 1/2 minutes, making his lone field goal attempt but picking up four fouls trying to slow down Stoudemire.
"They attacked the rim and got 42 foul shots. That appeared to be their game plan," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. "We didn't start out the way I wanted and we didn't finish the right way."
Despite the Phoenix win, the Suns still face an uphill battle in the series. Jackson-led clubs are 46-0 when winning Game 1 of any playoff series, 35-0 when capturing a 2-0 edge and an astonishing 53-1 when holding a series lead of any kind.
Nash underwent what was described as a minor reduction on Monday that put his nose back in place and was able to practice on Monday. The two-time former MVP will be in the starting lineup tonight.
"I think he's as tough as they come," Gentry said of Nash on Monday. "You saw what happened in the game last night, he tried to rearrange his own nose. My wife was in a car accident and broke her nose. It almost made her physically sick to see him grab his nose and just try to rearrange it himself."
Meanwhile, the oft-injured Bynum, who has struggled since tearing cartilage in his right knee at the end of the Lakers' quarterfinals series against the Oklahoma City, refused to blame the injury for his woes.
"No excuses. I feel a little pain, it goes away. I feel a little pain, it goes away. I just need to play better," Bynum said.
Talk Monday revolved around the Suns' zone defense that was so effective in Game 3. Jackson remarked that he had never seen an NBA team use the zone so much since it was legalized in 2001-02, while some members of the Lakers seemed to infer the philosophy was less than "manly."
"We have to try every way we can to find a situation where we can win," Gentry said. "Whatever that takes. If we have to play our girlie zone as somebody said, we'll play our girlie zone."
Phoenix, which has never captured an NBA title, is in the conference finals for the first time since 2006, when the Suns lost to the Dallas Mavericks. Phoenix last made it to the NBA Finals in 1993 when they fell in six games to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers are appearing in their third straight Western Conference final and are attempting to become the first repeat league champions since they won three in a row (2000-02) with teams fueled by Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
LA won three of four games vs. Phoenix in the regular season and won the Pacific Division by three games over the Suns.
In the postseason, the clubs have a long and storied history, meeting 11 times previously dating back to the 1969-70 season. The Lakers have won seven of those series but the Suns have rebounded to take four of the last five playoff sets between the two teams after dropping the first six. Phoenix has also taken the last two postseason matchups between the clubs, first round series in 2005-06 and '06-07.
LA and Phoenix have met twice previously in the Western Conference finals with the Lakers winning both, in 1984 and 1989.
Game 5 of the series will be back in LA on Thursday.