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With one minute left in the game, the Lakers possessed a 101-98 lead. At this instant, Ron Artest cut to the top of the key and took an off balance 18-foot jump shot with the shot clock winding down. It was off, but luckily for the Lakers, Pau Gasol was there to clean up the rebound. Gasol kicked it out to the wing where Artest had set himself up nicely after missing his previous shot. What he should of done was hold onto the ball, even though he was wide open at the time, and reset the offense by giving the ball to Kobe Bryant. With a new 24 second shot clock to work with, the ideal situation is to use every last second in order to create a two-for-one opportunity should you miss.
Instead, Artest shot the wide open three and missed it. That was his seventh miss of the night on his eighth attempt. The Suns got the rebound and called a timeout. Out of the break, they ran Channing Frye off a screen in order to get an open three pointer that would tie the game if it went down. He missed as well. Kobe Bryant set up the offense beautifully on the other end, hitting Pau Gasol with a perfect pass on the pick and roll. The problem? Gasol missed the jam with Amare protecting the rim. Not only did it cost the Lakers another possession, but Pau also robbed Kobe of his 10th assist, which would have given him a triple-double.
Steve Nash pushed the pace off the miss and ended up trying a pull-up 28-footer in transition to try and tie it. He missed, but he got the rebound. He then kicked it out to Jason Richardson, who missed, but again, due to a lack of box outs from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Suns got the rebound. Richardson got another chance and he cashed in with a bankshot three with 3.5 seconds left in the game to tie the game at 101.
Everybody in the world knew what was coming next. Kobe was going to get a shot to win it at the buzzer or this game was headed to overtime. Bryant waited and waited before making a break for the ball on the inbounds pass. He turned and fired up a double contested three which he was fouled on that ended up being an air ball. But much like his miss in Game 6 against OKC, he took the shot with enough time on the clock to allow a chance for a putback. Ron Artest, who started the play on the opposite wing, saw that Kobe had been hacked and knew the shot was going to be short. So, as Jason Richardson, the same guy that made an extremely lucky three on the previous possession, tracked the ball in mid-air without actually attempting to box Artest out, Ron came running up behind him, snatched the ball out of the air and threw up an unorthodox lay-up that went in as the buzzer sounded.
Mass chaos ensued. Kobe Bryant, for the first time in a while, was ecstatic on the basketball court. His emotions had been limited to pissed off and angry over the past couple of weeks as his determination got the best of him. But after seeing Ron-Ron come through on the hells of an absolutely awful night, Kobe couldn’t help but get elated, jumping up and down with Artest before the whole Lakers squad arrived at the mob.
After making a lucky three that tied the game, Jason Richardson failed to box out on Artest, giving him the game-winning bucket. After missing two shots in the final minute, Artest redeemed himself with the buzzer beater. And nobody remembers Pau Gasol’s two missed dunk/lay-up attempts in the final two minutes as well as his lack of rebounding on the Suns’ final possession. Sometimes you can’t describe what goes on in an NBA game. This is one of those times.
What is evident though, is Kobe Bryant is dialed in. I’ll have more on him tomorrow, but 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks? Come on Kobe, that’s just not fair. And with Artest, Andrew Bynum (0-of-4 from the field), and Pau Gasol (21/9/5 but never had a rhythm) struggled to maintain a consistent offensive attack, Derek Fisher stepped up and nailed big shot after big shot. When the Lakers were down seven or so early and Kobe exited the game with two quick fouls, Fisher orchestrated an individual 9-0 run with three’s, long two’s and even lay-ups that put the Lakers in the driver’s seat for the majority of the game.
Phoenix fought back in the fourth quarter, though. Phil Jackson said before the game that he wanted Nash to be a shooter/scorer and not as much as a distributor in this game. He got his wish. Nash had a post-season high 20 shot attempts on his way to a 29 point night. The Lakers switched on every pick and roll, which left Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol on him most times, giving him easy looks from mid-range. Andrew Bynum didn’t do a terrible job when switched onto Nash, actually blocking him a couple of times when he was out on the perimeter, but foul trouble prevented him from getting meaningful crunch time minutes.
The Lakers were +9 in the rebounding column, +5 in the free throw column and dominated Phoenix with second chance points. However, the Lakers were again out shot at the free throw line, were out shot from the field (47% to 42%), and were out shot from three (33% to 29%), so they’re is room improvement. Unlike Phoenix in Game’s 3 and 4, the Lakers didn’t play perfect in order to win and knowing that they can play much better than this should help them going forward, especially after handing the Suns such a gut wrenching loss.
One other note: I really like this Sasha Vujacic on Goran Dragic match-up. Vujacic didn’t allow Dragic to beat him off the dribble once, stopping him from creating for his teammates and getting to the cup. Sasha is pesky and the refs let him do his thing tonight on Goran. Because of their little incident in the fourth, the refs may call anything between them quicker than usual, but I’m giving Sasha more minutes in this match-up. Also, he hit a three in the fourth quarter, so that was nice.
Game 6 is Saturday. More on Kobe tomorrow.