Lakers survive Suns on Artest's shot
LOS ANGELES (AP)
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 is the only new player on the roster of the defending champions, who are one win away from the NBA finals.
"I missed a lot of layups during the regular season," Artest said. "I'm just staying with it and trying to stay focused and play my part, see what happens."
Something incredible happened: Artest's basket completed a 2-for-9 shooting night, an otherwise awful performance redeemed by one supremely heady offensive rebound.
Jason Richardson banked in a straightaway 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to tie it for the Suns. Phoenix clawed back from an 18-point deficit in the second half with a superb game by Steve Nash, who had 29 points and 11 assists.
Bryant then missed a difficult shot from the sideline, but Artest caught the ball and raised to his tiptoes while throwing up a hideous shot that somehow went in.
"It means a lot for him," Bryant said. "I think for him emotionally, it's a big boost. ... Once I released the ball, I saw Ron sneaking 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.
"I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot, so I figured it was going to be short," Artest said. "And it was a little short."
Game 6 is Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Lakers can clinch the chance to play for their 16th championship.
"Everything is OK," Nash said. "We can't knock a great effort. I think we deserved this game."
Led by Nash's stirring second-half effort, the Suns 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.
Lamar Odom had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who led 101-96 with 90 seconds to play before Nash hit another jumper and Artest missed twice, the home crowd yelling in frustration with each open brick.
"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."
Stoudemire scored 19 points for the Suns, who had three looks at a 3-point shot in the final seconds. Nash and Richardson both missed, but Richardson then 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."
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 postseason.
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 dominating Game 4 while Phoenix evened the series, 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. The Lakers surged to a 16-point lead in the first half with a 21-4 run led by Bryant, who hit three consecutive 3-pointers in less than a minute.
Gentry vomited into a trash can while sitting on the bench in the first half after apparently eating something that disagreed with him. Gentry, who reportedly received intravenous fluids at halftime, also didn't care for the officiating, earning a technical foul midway through the Lakers' big run.
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.
NOTES: The Lakers have won Game 5 the last nine straight times they've reached it in a playoff series, including last season's title clincher over Orlando. Los Angeles also is the only team that hasn't trailed in a series this spring. ... Nash was a 91 percent free throw shooter in the playoffs (61 for 67) before missing two in the first quarter of Game 5. ... Lakers G Sasha Vujacic's 3-pointer in the fourth quarter was his first since April 13.