Party like it’s (the 3 years after) 1999: In the final minute, after the Suns had Corved down an 18-point lead to almost nothing, Ron Artest misses 2 shots and gifts 20 seconds to Phoenix, but his putback at the buzzer is When Suns Cry, and it makes him the Delirious Prince of the Purple Reign
Put on your Raspberry Beret, hop into your Little Red Corvette, and re-attach your Laker Flags — The Lakers are back in front in the Western Conference Finals.
Los Angeles now leads the Best-of-7 Series 3-to-2, after barely hanging on in Game 5 at Staples Center, 103-101. Game 6 is Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Home Court Advantage gives a distinct edge to the Suns. And after their valiant double-comeback/near-miss in Game 5 in L.A., the Suns now will have a little confidence in that potential Game 7. But the Lakers have now won 11 straight Home Playoff games, so despite the close call, they too will be confident. And they’d be favored too. But anyone who saw Game 5 knows to never count Steve Nash and Phoenix out.
The Suns came out with more fire and focus, and they led the game for the first 8 minutes. Once again, Kobe wasn’t looking to score early, ringing up only 2 points in the 1st quarter. But Derek Fisher picked up the slack, scoring 11 in the period to give the Lakers a 3-point lead going into the 2nd. That’s when Kobe exploded, AGAIN. He scored 13 in the quarter, including 3 straight three-pointers. With plenty of help from Lamar Odom, Kobe led the Lakers to a 17-point lead. But Nash wouldn’t let the Suns quit. Nash scored 15 Points in the 1st half, which ended with the Lakers up only 8.
The 3rd quarter saw the Lakers push the lead up to 18, with Kobe, Fisher, Gasol, and Odom leading the offensive charge. But once again, Phoenix came back. Nash started the comeback with a 3, but then it was the Phoenix bench that went berserk, closing out the quarter on a 16-4 run to make it a 6-point game.
In the 4th, Nash took over for Phoenix. The Suns’ Point Guard, who ended with 29 Points and 11 Rebounds, led the Suns all the way back, and with a pass to Amare Stoudemire for a dunk with under 3 minutes left, he brought Phoenix to within 1 point. Then Fisher, Gasol, and Odom each got 2 points, versus 2 more jumpers by Nash, so that the Lakers led by 3 with a minute to go, WITH the ball. But the possession ended when Artest, who was at that point only 1-for-6 from the floor, decided to take a wide-open jumper from above the free throw line. The shot was the definition of a brick, landing flatly on the neck of the rim. But Gasol saved the day, by snagging the Offensive Rebound. He brought it back out to Artest so that the Lakers could drain 20 seconds off the clock. Inexplicably, Artest immediately heaved up a three-point shot. He was wide open, and Reggie Miller thought it was a fine choice — to go for the jugular — but that’s coming from a guy who sank three’s like other people sink lay-ups. The crowd and the Coach disagreed with Miller. With Artest’s missed j seconds ago still fresh in their minds, the Staples Center crowd collectively screamed “Noooo!” at Artest while he squared up for his unwise three-pointer. And after Phoenix got the Board and called Timeout, Artest got an uncensored earful from Phil Jackson on the bench. Jackson said that Artest got even more flack about it in a pointed, one-way conversation that took place after the game.
After the Timeout, Channing Frye, who had another Double-Double, missed a huge three-pointer. But then Gasol missed a tough Dunk, so Phoenix had the ball, down by 3 with 20 seconds left. Nash tried to tie it with one shot but missed. However, the Suns got the Offensive Board. Jason Richardson took a three and missed as well, but once again, Phoenix got the Carom. Frye got it back to Richardson, and this time, Richardson missed by a mile… but it BANKED IN, to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left. Ironic that the Suns would force the deadlock with Offensive Rebounding and SECOND-CHANCE Points, since THOSE were that exact categories that the Lakers expoited to be in the lead in the first place. L.A. won the Offensive Glass battle 19-12, and 2nd Chance Points 18-5. The Suns had ZERO 2nd Chance Points until very late in the game, but they got the three that really mattered… for 3.5 seconds.
After a Timeout and advancement of the ball, the Lakers brought it in to Kobe, who had the shorter Nash on him. Kobe tried a fallaway jumper over Nash, but lengthy Grant Hill double-teamed Kobe at the last second, forcing Kobe to double-pump, and throw up a short airball. But just like Gasol did versus OKC, Artest caught the miss, and tossed it back up through the hoop as time expired.
Artest, who had been amazing on Defense all night but horrible on Offense, went from Goat to Hero in 3.5 seconds. Kobe’s airball would have erased The Black Mamba’s 30 Points, 11 Rebounds, 9 Assists, and 4 Blocks. If only they would have seen that last miss as a PASS to Artest, Kobe would have notched his first-ever Playoff Triple-Double.
When Artest was asked about his ill-advised three-point shot with 20 seconds left on the 24-second clock, he didn’t seem all that contrite. He just said that he was playing ball, and the Defense gave him the wide-open shot. He still didn’t seem to get the concept of running down the clock. But since he was there to clean up the mess, it’s Phoenix on whom the clock is running out.