By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat October 24, 1996
A strong fourth-quarter shooting performance from Byron Scott wasn't enough last night as the Phoenix Suns downed the Los Angeles Lakers 109-100 in the FHP Shootout exhibition game at McKale Center.
The Laker veteran scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the final period but Los Angeles still could not overtake the Suns, who opened the final period with a 16-point lead and cruised to the win.
"Byron brought us back to respectability," Lakers head coach Del Harris said. "Byron's been a bright spot in our shooting."
His heroics were not enough because the Lakers picked a bad night to have an uncharacteristically awful third quarter. Los Angeles has been a tough third-quarter team throughout the preseason but managed just 14 points in the third last night, while the Suns tallied 32.
"The third quarer has been good for us in our previous six games," Harris said. "It was by far our worst tonight."
The soldout McKale crowd was treated to what was essentially a home game for the Suns, complete with the music and the antics of the Gorilla, the Suns mascot. The Lakers received cheers due mostly to the presence of Shaquille O'Neal, who finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds.
The biggest cheers, however, went to former Arizona star Ben Davis, who was making his return to Tucson after the Suns picked him in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft. He started the game and was given a standing ovation from the fans. Davis played the entire first quarter, grabbing five rebounds but scoring no points.
"I don't think the numbers will reflect how Ben played tonight," Suns coach Paul Silas said. "He showed a lot of hustle and helped out our team in ways other than points and assists." but sat the rest of the way as the Suns went to a bigger lineup, which turned out to be the difference in the game.
"We lost our lead in the fourth quarter but overall it was a good game for us," Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said.
The Lakers, with the 7-foot-1-inch O'Neal, 6-foot-10-inch Sean Rooks - another former Wildcat involved in the game - and 6-foot-11-inch Elden Campbell, dictated the flow of the first half. They started fast and built a 13-4 lead after Eddie Jones' slam dunk with 8:09 left in the first. The Lakers led by as many as 12 points with nine minutes remaining in the second quarter before going into halftime up 57-55.
"It seemed like a game where we got off off to a good start and kind of coasted the rest of the way," Harris said.
The momentum that was gained at the end of the half carried over into the third quarter for the Suns. Wesley Person's fast-break dunk with nine minutes to play in the third started a run of nine straight points that the Lakers never really recovered from.
"We were a little fatigued," Laker forward Cedric Ceballos said. "We were pretty stagnant on offense."
After the game, Harris said he was impressed with the Suns and said they could surprise people this season.
"There is usually one team that does better than most people think," Harris said. "Two years ago it was us, last year it was Sacramento. It looks to me like this year it'll be Phoenix."
Person led the Suns with 18 points. Sam Casell had 16 in just 15 first half minutes. Ceballos scored 16 and led all rebounders with nine.