PHOENIX - Get ready, Boston, for a rematch with Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant wrapped up a magnificent series with 37 points, Ron Artest added 25, and the Lakers held off Phoenix, 111-103, on Saturday night to win the NBA Western Conference finals in six games.
The Lakers and Celtics, the NBA’s premier teams for much of the league’s history, will meet in the NBA Finals for the 12th time, with Game 1 on Thursday in Los Angeles.
“We’ll see how much we matured,” Bryant said. “They challenged us extremely well in the Finals a couple years ago. Now is a chance to see how much we’ve grown.”
Bryant scored nine points in the final 2 minutes Saturday against Phoenix, including what looked like an impossible 23-footer with Grant Hill in his face and 34 seconds to play. Bryant’s basket put Los Angeles up 107-100, and the scrappy Suns were finished.
Amare Stoudemire, in what might have been his last game with the Suns, scored 27 points but struggled to a 7-of-20 shooting performance. Steve Nash had 21 points and nine assists in his 118th playoff game, the most for anyone who has never reached the Finals.
Bryant, with his 10th 30-point performance in his past 11 postseason games, moved ahead of Jerry West and into a tie with Kareem Abdul Jabbar for second-most 30-point playoff games at 75. He has a ways to go for the record — 109, held by Michael Jordan.
Channing Frye had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, who have reached the Finals only twice in their history and never have won a championship. Goran Dragic scored 10 of his 12 points in a fourth-quarter rally that got Phoenix within three points.
The Lakers led by as many as 18 late in the second quarter and were up by 17 entering the fourth. But four Suns reserves plus Stoudemire got Phoenix back in contention.
“With a 3-point shooting team like Phoenix,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “you know that any lead is not impossible.”
A layup by Nash with 2:19 remaining capped a 22-8 run by the Suns and cut the Lakers’ lead to 99-96.
After the Lakers stretched it to 103-96, Stoudemire cut it to 103-100 with 53.1 seconds to play, but Bryant responded with his dagger over Hill, and the surprising playoff run of the undersized, overmatched Suns was over.
Game 1: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 6 p.m., Ch. 4