NBA: Confident Nash says Suns will win Game 6
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX — Steve Nash says he's no "Joe Namath who walked in in his fur coat" but the Suns playmaker is not backing away from his post-game promise that Phoenix will beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
Not might win, not try hard to win, not hope to win.
"I just said we're going home and win Game 6 and come back in Game 7," Nash said after practice on Friday. "Take it how you want to take it."
The Suns didn't seem devastated by Thursday night's last-second 103-101 loss in Los Angeles. Quite the opposite. The close call seemed to bolster their belief they can win this series, even though the Lakers are up 3-2 and can advance to the NBA finals for the third straight year with a victory in Phoenix on Saturday night.
"There's some really good things that we did last night, some things to build on," the Suns' Grant Hill said. "I think the main thing is the confidence that we can beat this team. Obviously we've done it twice, and we've got to try to do it twice more."
Nash's assurance may not have packed the flamboyance of Namath's famous guarantee that his huge underdog New York Jets would beat Baltimore in the Super Bowl, but it was enough to rile Game 5 hero Ron Artest.
"That's like no respect for us. There's no respect. That's how it's been for a long time this season. I'm sure we'll talk about it," Artest said before the Lakers left Los Angeles on Friday. "Coaches have no respect for the Lakers at all. They have no respect for me. The players don't respect — a lot of the guys don't respect. ... I'm sure Kobe heard that (what Nash said), and I'm sure he'll do his part tomorrow."
Artest's comments came after he was fined for showing up late for practice on Friday.
Phoenix rallied from 18 down in the second half to tie at 101-101 when Jason Richardson banked in a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds to play. The Lakers pulled it out when Kobe Bryant threw up an air ball and Artest hustled to retrieve it, then banked in a shot at the buzzer.
"It was a great moment for him, for our team," the Lakers' Derek Fisher said. "Ron has really sacrificed a lot for our team. He's a big part of our team. A lot of things he does go unnoticed on the stat sheet, but he's committed to doing one thing, and that's helping us win."
The home team has won every game so far in this series, which looked to be a Lakers romp after Los Angeles scored 128 and 124 points and shot 58 percent in the first two games. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry turned to a zone defense and, buoyed by a raucous home crowd, Phoenix won the next two. Game 5 was the first truly close finish of the series.
The Suns have won six straight playoff games at home since losing to Portland in their first-round opener. The Lakers can earn their 31st trip to the NBA finals by ending that streak.
"We don't plan on going to Phoenix and losing three times on their home court," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "We're not making this trip over there just to fill a date. We're going over there to win a game. We're highly motivated for this game, but we understand that if it has to go seven, we're damn well ready to come back home and defend our home court again. This is a series that has taken a lot of different faces to it in the course of these five games, and we don't expect Game 6 to be any different."
Hill said the only constant for either team in the series has been the magnificence of Bryant, who is averaging 33 points, 9.6 assists and 7.4 rebounds in the five games. Bryant had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists on Thursday night.
"He's made unbelievable shots," Hill said, "against our man-to-man, against our zone. I mean, the guy's due for an off game. I mean he's just hit some shots like you wouldn't believe. We watched the film (of Game 5) and there was one shot he took where it wasn't contested. Other than that every shot for the most part was a hand in his face. He's been awesome."
The difference has been how much help he gets from his teammates. On Thursday it was Pau Gasol (22 points) and Fisher (21).
This could be the last, and most important, game Amare Stoudemire plays for the Suns. The All-Star power forward can opt out of the final year of his contract after this season and said chances are "50-50" that he will be back.
"We've played all season for this game," he said. "We've got to take advantage of it. It's all about determination now."
Richardson blamed the loss on himself because he failed to box out Artest on Bryant's errant last shot.
"I boxed out every time but one," he lamented.
But Nash said no one on this team is pointing fingers.
"We all make mistake and it's misleading to pin the game on the last play when there were hundreds of plays at both ends of the court that determine the game," Nash said. "We lost the game. J-Rich did a lot of great things for our team and we believe in him. We need him, so I don't place any blame on him."
Nash had a series high 29 points and 11 assists on Thursday night, his 117th playoff game, more than any other player in NBA history who has not made it to the finals. He didn't expect to get this far with this undersized group of overachievers and the 36-year-old point guard may never get this close again.
"I thought we could make the playoffs. I thought we could get out of the first round and who knows what happens from there," he said. "But to be right here with a real opportunity where we believe, that's pretty outstanding and special."