Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Ron Artest caught Kobe Bryant's air ball and put in the winning shot at the buzzer, lifting the Los Angeles Lakers to a dramatic 103-101 win over Phoenix in the pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
Artest missed a quick three-pointer in the closing minute, allowing the Suns to have a chance to eventually tie the game, and they did when Jason Richardson banked in a three-ball with 3.5 seconds left.
Bryant then received the inbounds pass from Lamar Odom, but under heavy pressure, his three-point shot from the right corner was short. Artest darted through traffic and under the hoop to beat Richardson to the ball, and his put-back fell through as time expired, giving the Lakers their 11th straight home playoff win.
"I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot, so I kind of figured it was going to be short," Artest said. "It looked like he got hit on his arm a little bit."
The Lakers won the first two games at Staples Center, then lost the following pair in Phoenix. The defending champions are one victory away from a third straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Bryant was just shy of a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Pau Gasol added 21 points and nine rebounds, while Derek Fisher scored 22 for LA. Odom ended with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Despite the incredible finish, it was a familiar script for the Lakers, who have never lost in 19 games at home of a Game 5 when a series is even. In those series, the Lakers are 17-1 all-time, with their only loss coming in the 1969 NBA Finals vs. Boston.
Two free throws by Gasol gave the Lakers a 99-94 lead with 2:05 remaining, but Nash made a pair of jumpers, sandwiched between a layup from Odom.
Artest then missed a jumper with just over a minute remaining, but Gasol got the offensive rebound and kicked it back to Artest. Instead of running the clock, Artest took a quick three-point shot, which clanked off the rim.
The Lakers kept their 101-98 lead when Channing Frye missed a three-point shot, but Gasol's dunk attempt, off a pass from Bryant, didn't fall.
Phoenix then needed a trio of long-distance shots to tie the game. Nash missed a three-point try, but secured his own rebound. Richardson's attempt from the top of the arc went in and out. Frye, though, kicked the ball back to Richardson, who banked in the tying shot from well beyond the top of the arc.
Artest then dramatically won the game, getting a reprieve from his earlier quick shot that went awry. The winning shot was just his second basket of the game (2-for-9). Before that, after the three-point miss, Artest sat on the bench and got an earful from Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
"I don't know why I left him in the game, I actually questioned it myself when I put him on the floor, and he made the key play," Jackson said.
The Lakers fell behind early, but later built an 18-point lead in the third quarter before blowing the advantage. Odom's free throw moved the cushion to 74-56 with 3:44 left in the third, but the Suns came back with an ensuing 13-2 push. Frye's three-pointer drew the visitors within 78-72 moving to the fourth.
LA widened the gap to 11 points early in the last period, but Frye's three- ball closed the difference to 88-83 with seven minutes left. A 9-2 Phoenix run brought the Suns within 95-94 with just under three minutes to go when Nash fed Amare Stoudemire on the left baseline for a layup.
"On defense we did great, everything we did was fine. It came down to one play. We had an opportunity to win, but we just didn't get it done," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
Stoudemire totaled 19 points, while Frye ended with 14 points and 10 boards in defeat.
Nash had nine points in the first quarter, two less than Fisher as the Suns came away facing a 24-21 deficit after 12 minutes. Nash hit a pull-up jumper for a 19-13 Phoenix lead, but Fisher was in the midst of scoring nine straight points for his team. His layup provided the hosts with a 20-19 edge.
The Lakers scored 13 in a row in the second for a 41-25 lead, capped by three straight three-point shots from Bryant. The Suns trimmed the margin to 53-45 at the half.
"Our defense is getting better. I think we did a good job again tonight," Nash said. "I thought there were stretches of the game where we got stagnant, particularly I would say second and third quarters. But I think we'll learn from it and hopefully at home we'll be a little better."
The Lakers have not won a postseason game in the Valley of the Sun since April 26, 2006...When tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven series, the Lakers are 24-8...Richardson scored 12, while Jared Dudley and Grant Hill each had 10 for Phoenix.