NBA: Here’s saying it: Lakers were lucky
By Mark Heisler
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Thanks, Big Laker in the Sky.
The Los Angeles Lakers didn't win Game 5 Thursday night, they put it in the hands of the gods and let them sort it out.
Tantalizing the Phoenix Suns, the gods let them come from 18 points down in the last 16 minutes to tie it, getting off three three-pointers on their last possession before Jason Richardson banked the last one in from the top of the circle.
Then the gods walked Ron Artest, who had just thrown up one of the dumbest shots in Lakers history, which is saying something, under Kobe Bryant's airball to make the winning shot as time ran out in an improbable — OK, lucky — 103-101 victory at Staples Center.
"At least they know we're not going to go away," said Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry, bearing up wonderfully for someone who had an upset stomach all night before getting his heart broken at the end.
The Western Conference finals now move to Phoenix for Game 6 Saturday.
Game 7, if needed, which began looking increasingly likely the longer Thursday's game went, would be in L.A. on Monday.
In other words, Lakers fans may not want to make other plans for Monday.
"Hey, you know, we're OK," said Steve Nash, who scored 29 points with 11 assists, leading the Phoenix rally.
"We came back, obviously, with a great effort. Maybe we deserved the game, maybe we didn't, but we lost.
"They held their home court. We're going to go back and do the same and come back here for Game 7."
A lot had changed since the Suns left here a week ago, trailing 2-0, with everyone talking sweep, matchups with Boston and upcoming free agent Amare Stoudemire's future in Phoenix.
It was a different Gentry who bobbed up in the interview room before Thursday's game.
In his last appearance there after Game 2, he mused about letting Bryant score 80 points and trying to defend everyone else, and asked the media whether it had any suggestions.
"Yeah, and you guys didn't do anything," said Gentry, laughing, "so don't take any credit."
What Gentry came up with on his own was the same zone defense he had tried in Games 1-2, which the Lakers had cut to ribbons.
In Phoenix, it worked well enough to hold the Lakers to 109-106, which was good enough with the Suns scoring 118-115.
Preparing for the worst, nonetheless, the Suns watched a replay of Game 5 of the Oklahoma City series, in which the Lakers, coming off two losses on the road, tore the Thunder apart, 111-87.
Well, at least, the Suns' coaches watched it.
"Our guys, we give them the CliffsNotes version," said Gentry.
Or maybe he didn't want to scare them to death.
Sure enough, the Lakers played the kind of gritty defense they're known for, at least after one of those wakeup calls they're also known for.
With 3:44 left in the third quarter, the Suns had 56 points and the Lakers led them by 18.
Then, darned if the Suns' bench, or as Jared Dudley called them "five guys nobody knows," didn't do it again.
Led by Channing Frye, who scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, and Dudley, who had all 10 of his in the final half, the reserves cut the deficit to five points midway through the fourth quarter before the regulars came back in and cut it to zero.
"I think you could definitely sense the assertiveness and the aggressiveness of the Suns," said Fisher, "and that they felt like the momentum was on their side and they were playing sharp and crisp and physical around the rim.
"There were some times, even on rebounds, where they were just crashing through guys and getting the ball back."
Then, Artest, the game's new best closer, caught Bryant's airball and the rest was history.
"Just when you thought everything was OK and we're going to overtime," Nash said. "That's life."
In the bad news for the Lakers, the breaks could even up.