Artest-ed Development: Artest’s bank shot at buzzer lifts Lakers to 3-2 lead over Suns
Ron Artest redeemed himself Thursday night and became Game 5’s unlikely hero when his putback at the buzzer of Kobe’s miss beat the Suns 103-101 in the West finals.
LOS ANGELES — Ron Artest became a part of the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff lore with a bank shot to beat the Phoenix Suns.
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 Artest was the improbable hero of Game 5 with just his second basket of the night in an otherwise awful performance.
Jason Richardson banked in a straightaway 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to tie it for the Suns, who rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half.
Bryant missed a difficult shot from the corner, but Artest collected the rebound and raised to his tiptoes to throw up a hideous shot that somehow went 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.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Lakers can clinch the chance to play for their 16th championship.
“It’s going to be tough but we’re looking forward to it though,” Bryant said.
Steve Nash had 29 points and 11 assists in a stirring second-half effort for the Suns, who 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.
The Lakers led 101-96 with 1:38 remaining, but Nash hit another jumper and Artest missed twice. The Suns had three looks at a 3-point shot in the final seconds, but two missed before Richardson missed so badly that he banked it in from a long step behind the line.
Derek Fisher scored 22 points and Pau 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 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 the Lakers won the series’ first two games in businesslike fashion with 58-percent shooting and dominant low-post play, the third-seeded Suns seemed headed for summer until they responded at home.
Phoenix’s offense kicked into gear with 3-pointers and aggressive drives that generated a huge free-throw advantage, and the Suns’ superior bench dominated the Lakers’ reserves, evening the series in Game 4 Tuesday. 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.
After a poor start to Game 5, the Lakers surged to a 16-point lead with a 21-4 run led by Bryant, who hit three consecutive 3-pointers in less than a minute.
Phoenix coach Alvin 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.
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. … Soccer nut Nash chatted at halftime with David Beckham at the injured superstar’s courtside seat. Other celebrity fans included Jeremy Piven, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, Jerry Bruckheimer, Andy Garcia, Angels ace Jered Weaver, 76ers forward Andre Iguodala and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
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