The Associated Press
PHOENIX Ä Kevin Johnson's shooting eye was out of kilter, but not his legs.
After hitting just five of 16 shots in the first half against the Golden State Warriors, Johnson got orders from Phoenix coach Paul Westphal to cut out the long-range stuff.
"He literally said, 'Don't shoot any more jump shots,' and stuff like, 'Get some layups and get people involved,'" Johnson said after scoring a playoff career-high 38 points, including 17 in the third quarter when Phoenix took the lead for good in a 117-111 victory yesterday.
The win put the Suns ahead 2-0 in their best-of-5 series. Game 3 will be played Wednesday in Oakland, Calif.
Johnson, using his one-on-one skills to blow past the Warriors' Latrell Sprewell, scored 15 points in the final 5:02 of the third quarter, mostly on layups. He hit 10 of his last 15 field-goal attempts and set a Suns playoff record with 31 shots attempted, breaking a record Westphal set (30) in 1979.
Danny Ainge started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, putting Phoenix ahead 94-86, and then clinched the game with 3:05 to play on an 18-footer from the corner that made it 116-104.
The Suns didn't make another field goal, but the 12-point lead was too much for the Warriors to overcome.
"They played exceptionally well into the third quarter, and once we started to make our run, they got confused and started to talk to each other," said A.C. Green, who earned two championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. "At the first sign of adversity, they started to crack, and I said, 'Now's the time to take them.'"
Golden State coach Don Nelson didn't see it that way.
"Things went right for them and wrong for us," Nelson said.
Charles Barkley scored 20 for the Suns, who shot 44 percent to the Warriors' 51 percent, and Dan Majerle had 17, including six on a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we were doing OK when we were keeping them down," said the Warriors' Chris Mullin. "But I thought when Ainge made those threes and Majerle got open for a three or two, I thought that hurt us. Besides that, there was Kevin, but he hurt us all game."
Mullin scored 19 of his 32 points in the third period for Golden State, while Sprewell added 19 and Chris Webber had 17.
The Warriors led by 10 points in the first quarter, but Majerle's layup with 57 seconds left before halftime gave Phoenix its first lead, 53-52.
Webber answered with a dunk 12 seconds later, and Sprewell slammed another one down in the final seconds for a 56-53 halftime lead.
Sprewell also taunted Barkley after the basket, but referee Lee Jones let it slide. Midway through the quarter, though, a technical foul was assessed against Cedric Ceballos for celebrating after a dunk. The officials left the court to a chorus of boos and were welcomed back for the second half the same way.
Mullin had 19 points and Sprewell six in the first nine minutes of the third quarter, when the Warriors fought off every Phoenix attempt to catch up. Mullin's layup made it 81-76 Golden State.
Then Johnson took over.
"They came out so emotional, that's what got them the lead," Johnson said. "They were doubling Charles off my man, and I couldn't hit the shots. They were running people at me, and I didn't hit the shots."
Until the end of the third period.
That's when he made a three-point play out of a layup and Chris Gatling's fifth foul, hit two more baskets, then tied it 86-86 with a technical free throw with 58 seconds to go. Green made two free throws to put Phoenix ahead for good, 88-86.