Los Angeles - Ron Artest stumbled into Los Angeles Lakers playoff lore with one remarkable 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 the improbable hero of Game 5 is the only new player on the roster of the defending champions, who are one win away from the NBA Finals.
“I missed a lot of layups during the regular season,” Artest said. “I’m just staying with it and trying to stay focused and play my part, see what happens.”
Something incredible happened: Artest’s basket completed a 2-for-9 shooting night, an otherwise awful performance redeemed by one supremely heady offensive rebound.
Jason Richardson banked in a straightaway 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining to tie it for the Suns. Phoenix clawed back from an 18-point deficit in the second half with a superb game by Steve Nash, who had 29 points and 11 assists.
Bryant then missed a difficult shot from the sideline, but Artest collected the rebound and raised to his tiptoes while throwing 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 erupted in celebration.
“I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot, so I figured it was going to be a little short,” Artest said. “And it was short.”
Game 6 is Saturday night in Phoenix, where the Lakers can clinch the chance to play for their 16th championship.
“Everything is OK,” Nash said. “We can’t knock a great effort. I think we deserved this game.”
Led by Nash’s stirring second-half effort, the Suns 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 to play.
The Lakers led 101-96 with 1:38 remaining, but Nash hit another jumper and Artest missed twice, the home crowd yelling in frustration with each open brick.
“He has an uncanny knack of doing things, and sometimes it just works out,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He just has a knack for being around crucial plays.”
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 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.
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.
Boston’s Kendrick Perkins will be eligible to play in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight against the Orlando Magic. The NBA rescinded one of the two technical fouls Perkins received in Game 5. That means Perkins hasn’t hit the mark of seven technicals in the playoffs that would lead to an automatic suspension. … A longtime friend of Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph faces drug charges after Indianapolis police said they found him driving the NBA star’s sport utility vehicle with a cooler containing marijuana. Arthur Boyd, 32, was arrested after police investigated an informant’s tip that Randolph was involved with Indianapolis-area drug dealers, according to court documents.
Orlando at Boston, 5:30 p.m., ESPN (Boston leads series, 3-2)