Sports Network | May 30, 2010
Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant poured in 37 points as the Los Angeles Lakers gained their third straight trip to the NBA Finals with a 111-103 win over the Suns.
The defending NBA champions, who eliminated Phoenix in six games in the Western Conference finals, will have a familiar foe in the title series. For the second time in three years and for a record 12th time in NBA history, the Lakers will battle the Boston Celtics for the championship.
Last year, the Lakers secured their 15th title with a five-game victory over Orlando, but in 2008 Boston topped Los Angeles in six games. The Celtics, gunning for their record 18th title, are coming off a six-game series win over the Magic in the East finals. Game 1 will be Thursday in Los Angeles.
"Last time we played them, it was a great learning experience for us," Bryant said. "It taught us what it takes to be a champion. With the defensive intensity they play with, the tenacity they play with, we learned a great deal in that series."
Ron Artest, whose put-back gave the Lakers a dramatic 103-101 win in Game 5 on Thursday, ended with 25 points in the series clincher.
Amare Stoudemire led the way with 27 points for the Suns, who were denied their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. They've never won the championship. It was also possibly Stoudemire's final game in a Phoenix uniform, as he's due to be a free agent this summer.
"I think those guys down the stretch hit tough shots," Stoudemire said. "Once we went on a run Kobe was able to bail them out. Kobe had energy down the stretch. We had energy, we gave it all we got, we fought back in both games, we were able to make a game out of it but just down the stretch that 18 (point lead) gave them just enough to get over the hump."
Steve Nash recorded 21 points and nine assists, while Channing Frye ended with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"Going into the series, I thought they were the better team, but I thought we had a chance to do something special," Nash said. "I think the last four or five days, I've been questioning who the better team is, and have had a lot of belief that maybe we were, or at least maybe we could find a way to win the series regardless. I think that's a tribute to my teammates, their attitude, commitment."
The Lakers, who snapped a seven-game playoff skid in Phoenix, are bidding to become the first repeat champion since they won three in a row (2000-02) with Bryant teaming with Shaquille O'Neal.
"After we came back in the playoffs last year, I ran into Paul Pierce in a complex where my daughter lives in LA," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I said, 'Get it back, we want to meet you in the finals.' So here it is almost a year later. We have this opportunity, both of us, to renew this rivalry."
Bryant scored 24 points in the second half, but the Suns, who trailed by as many as 18 in the third, trimmed the margin to 95-90 on Stoudemire's layup midway through the fourth.
Nash's reverse layup had the Suns within 99-96, and the crowd at US Airways Center was buzzing with 2:19 remaining. Bryant, though, stemmed the tide by canning a tough jumper from the right side, then after a steal from Lamar Odom, Bryant made two foul shots.
Phoenix never got closer than five the rest of the way, and Bryant, under heavy pressure from Grant Hill, nailed a right wing shot with 34.2 seconds left for a 107-100 difference. Bryant then jokingly tapped Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who could only smile at the incredible shot.
It was tight throughout the opening quarter, but the Lakers came away with a 37-34 edge going to the second. LA scored nine in a row in the middle portion of the second, gaining a 51-43 advantage. Andrew Bynum threw down an alley-oop jam and Jordan Farmar capped the rally with a three-pointer.
Bryant's three-ball in the closing seconds provided a 65-53 difference at the half and the Lakers were in front by double digits virtually the entire third quarter. The lead ballooned to 85-67 following an Artest hook shot with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. It was 91-74 moving to the last quarter.
Odom had 12 rebounds...Derek Fisher scored 11 and Bynum 10 for the Lakers...Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic had 13 and 12 points, respectively, for Phoenix...Bryant has recorded at least 30 points in 10 of his last 11 playoff games. He has 75 career 30-plus point playoff contests, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and behind only Michael Jordan (109)...Boston won the first eight championship series against the Lakers and owns a 9-2 advantage in the Finals matchup. The two also played a pair of nail-biting contests this regular season with the Lakers coming away with a 90-89 edge at Boston on Bryant's game-winning shot. Bryant sat out the Celtics' 87-86 win at Staples Center on February 18...Sasha Vujacic was given a flagrant foul one for elbowing Dragic in the mouth just 42 seconds into the fourth quarter.