After missing out on the postseason last year, the Phoenix Suns have come back with a vengeance, and the Los Angeles Lakers nearly became another chapter in their redemption story on Thursday, when both teams went head-to-head in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center.
With the series tied at 2-2, the Suns had an opportunity to steal a game on the road and potentially finish the series out in Phoenix, where they’ve gone undefeated in the playoffs this season. The Suns set the tone early and led the Lakers 17-10 late in the first quarter, but the Lakers responded with a 14-4 run and didn’t look back.
From the 46.8 second mark of the first quarter to the 3.5 second mark of the fourth quarter, the Lakers led the Suns. With just over three minutes left to go in the third quarter, the Lakers led by 18 points. At that point, most people figured the game was over, but with each favorable matchup Steve Nash got out of the pick-and-roll, the Suns slowly cut into the Lakers’ lead.
As effective as Derek Fisher was on the offensive end, scoring 22 points on 7-12 shooting from the field, he had no chance against Amar’e Stoudemire’s screens on the other end, and the Suns exploited that every chance they got. By the end of the third quarter, the Suns were within three points.
Both teams were hitting shots in the fourth quarter, but the Suns hit more, and at a more efficient clip. Nash was especially dominant, scoring 9 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. The only player that scored more than Nash on Thursday was Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 points for Los Angeles.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ron Artest couldn’t hit a shot, going 2-9 from the field in 31 minutes of play. Artest’s final miss proved costly for the Lakers, as his rushed 3-point shot with less than a minute on the shot clock gave the Suns plenty of time to draw up a play for a game-tying 3-point shot.
While it may have not been the play Alvin Gentry drew up out of the huddle, the Suns got their three points and tied the game at 101-101 with 3.5 seconds left. Phil Jackson called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Lakers drew up a play for Bryant, who had been on fire all game, but Grant Hill and Nash double teamed Bryant and forced him to miss the rim completely. That airball was a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, because if it bounced off the rim, they would have likely headed to overtime. However, because the ball landed in front of the rim, right into Artest’s hands, they were able to escape the game 103-101.
Artest may have not hit many shots on Thursday, but the one he hit was huge.
The Lakers will try and close out the series in Phoenix on Saturday.