Lakers 103 Suns 101
LOS ANGELES — Ron Artest stumbled into Los Angeles Lakers playoff lore with a remarkable bank shot to beat the Phoenix Suns.
Artest rambled into the lane and beat the buzzer with a wild shot after rebounding Kobe Bryant’s miss, and the Lakers edged the Suns 103-101 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Bryant had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, but the improbable hero of Game 5 was the only new player on the defending NBA champions’ roster. Artest’s rebound score completed a 2-for-9 shooting night during an otherwise awful performance redeemed by a heady offensive rebound.
“He has an uncanny knack of doing things, and sometimes it just works out,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He just has a knack for being around crucial plays.”
Jason Richardson banked in a straightaway three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to tie it for the Suns, who clawed back from an 18-point deficit in the second half.
Bryant then missed a difficult shot from the sideline, but Artest collected the rebound and raised to his tiptoes while throwing up a hideous shot that somehow went in. Artest, who missed two open jumpers just a few seconds earlier, grabbed Bryant in a joyous bear hug while the Staples Center crowd went nuts.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Lakers can clinch the chance to play for their 16th championship.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it though,” Bryant said.
Victoria’s Steve Nash had 29 points and 11 assists in a stirring second-half effort for the Suns, who hacked away at Los Angeles’ lead throughout the fourth quarter. Phoenix trimmed its deficit to 95-94 when Nash converted a three-point play and then fed Amare Stoudemire for a layup that barely beat the shot clock with 2:52 left.
The Lakers led 101-96 with 1:38 remaining, but Nash hit another jumper and Artest missed twice, the home crowd yelling in frustration with each open brick. The Suns had three looks at a three-point shot in the final seconds, but two missed before Richardson missed so badly that he banked it in from a long step behind the line.
“We just didn’t quite finish the game,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “I have no complaints. They played great. We hung in. We did a great job against Kobe on the last shot, just didn’t come up with the rebound. To me, it’s a great effort by us, and they know we’re not going to go away.”
The Lakers already won on a last-second layup earlier in the post-season, when Pau Gasol sent home the Oklahoma City Thunder with an offensive rebound and a score in Game 6 of the first round.
Derek Fisher scored 22 points and Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who rebounded from consecutive losses in Phoenix with their best defensive performance of the series, forcing 15 turnovers and holding Phoenix to mediocre shooting — yet the Suns still came agonizingly close to handing Los Angeles its first home loss of the post-season.
The Lakers improved to 8-0 at Staples Center, where they’ll play Game 7 on Monday night if the Suns hold serve in a series featuring five wins for the home team.
After the Lakers won the series’ first two games in businesslike fashion with 58-per cent shooting and dominant low-post play, the third-seeded Suns seemed headed for summer until they responded at home.
Phoenix’s offence kicked into gear with three-pointers and aggressive drives that generated a huge free-throw advantage, and the Suns’ superior bench dominated the Lakers’ reserves, evening the series in Game 4 Tuesday. The Suns’ bench outscored the Lakers just 31-24 in Game 5, while Los Angeles reasserted its size advantage with a 49-40 rebounding edge.
After a poor start to Game 5, the Lakers surged to a 16-point lead with a 21-4 run led by Bryant, who hit three consecutive three-pointers in less than a minute.
Los Angeles jumped ahead 74-56 in the third quarter, but Phoenix made a 16-4 rally including a four-point play by Jared Dudley to trim the lead to six points heading into the fourth.