Sports Network | May 29, 2010
(Sports Network) - The Los Angeles Lakers stand on the brink of a record 31st NBA Finals appearance as they get ready for Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns tonight.
Ron Artest caught Kobe Bryant's air ball and put in the winning shot at the buzzer, lifting the Lakers to a dramatic 103-101 win over Phoenix in the pivotal Game 5 of the set in LA on Thursday.
Artest missed a quick three-pointer in the closing minute, allowing the Suns a chance to eventually tie the game, when Jason Richardson banked in a three- ball with 3.5 seconds left.
"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," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Artest.
Bryant then received the ensuing 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 of the series at Staples Center, then lost the following pair in Phoenix. The defending champions are now one victory away from a third straight trip to the NBA Finals and a chance to win their 16th NBA crown against the league's other marquee franchise, the Boston Celtics, who finished off the Orlando Magic in six games to win the East finals on Friday.
Bryant finished just shy of a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in Game 5. 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.
Steve Nash had 29 points and 11 assists for the Suns, who will try to stave off elimination tonight at US Airways Center, where they've won seven straight playoff games against the Lakers.
"That was tough. We gotta bounce back in Game 6," Suns forward Grant Hill said. "I'm proud of my teammates for showing a lot of heart. We'll need it loud in Phoenix for Game 6."
Stoudemire totaled 19 points, while Frye ended with 14 points and 10 boards in defeat.
"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.
Nash, who has played in 117 postseason games, more than any other player in NBA history who has not made it to the Finals, remains confident heading into tonight's do-or-die game.
"I just said we're going home and win Game 6 and come back in Game 7," Nash said after practice on Friday. "Take that how you want to take it."
Artest, who was fined by the Lakers for showing up late to practice on Friday, wasn't happy with Nash's "guarantee."
"That's no respect for us. I'm sure we'll talk about it," Artest said. "Coaches have no respect for the Lakers. They have no respect for me. I'm sure Kobe heard that and I'm sure he'll do his part."
LA took three of four meetings vs. Phoenix in the regular season and won the Pacific Division by three games over the Suns.
In the postseason, the clubs have a long and storied history, meeting 11 times previously dating back to the 1969-70 season. The Lakers have won seven of those series but the Suns have rebounded to take four of the last five playoff sets between the two teams after dropping the first six. Phoenix has also taken the last two postseason matchups between the clubs, first round series in 2005-06 and '06-07.
LA and Phoenix have met twice previously in the Western Conference finals with the Lakers winning both, in 1984 and 1989.
Game 7 of the series, if necessary, will be back in Los Angeles on Monday.