The Phoenix Suns battled back from a double-digit deficit against the Los Angeles Lakers last night, only to blow it in the closing seconds all after a bizarre, buzzer-beating basket by Ron Artest.
The 103-101 game five loss gives L.A. a 3-2 advantage in the Western Conference Finals, and may have put the series entirely out of Phoenix's reach.
It absolutely broke our hearts to watch the Suns stage a second-half comeback after being down to the Lakers by as much as 18 points and come achingly close to getting it done. They definitely had L.A. on the ropes, and managed to slowly close the gap to knot the game at 101 apiece in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Adding to the tragedy was that Phoenix was mere moments away from sending the game into overtime. With 21 seconds left, Artest blasted an ill-advised three-point attempt that caromed off the rim and wound up in the hands of Jason Richardson. Lady Luck then smiled fondly on J-Rich as he fired off an off-balance shot from 30 feet away that banked in off the glass and tied the game.
Kobe Bryant's attempted trey with 3.5 seconds on the clock became an airball that fell right into the grasp of a surprised Artest, who heaved his putback right into the waiting basket.
As legendary Suns play-by-play man Al McCoy undoubtedly would've said, it was Heartbreak Hotel. (Hell, maybe he did says it; we were watching on TV.)
Here's some video of Artest's buzzer beater for those who'd like to relive the pain:
Suffice it to say, the shot destroyed Planet Orange's golden opportunity to steal a victory from El Lay at Staples Center and return home with a chance to close out the series on Saturday night. Now the game becomes a do-or-die situation for the Suns, which might be too tall of an order versus the defending NBA champs.
Is it an impossible task? Absolutely not, but it's gonna be be crazy difficult for Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire's crew to win two straight.
In some ways, the Suns didn't deserve to win Thursday night, especially since they seemingly just stood around holding their jocks while Artest made his bucket (we're looking in your direction J-Rich). Head coach Alvin Gentry admitted as much in his post-game comments.
"We just didn't do a very good job of boxing out [that shot] and coming up with the ball," Gentry stated. "Those plays like that are the difference between championship teams and really good teams."
Even more damning was the fact that Phoenix only began to play competitively during the second half, allowing the Lakers to run roughshod over them until that point. Despite the fact that the Purple and Orange Gang shot out to a seven-point lead at the start, El Lay was firmly in control of most of the game. The Suns much-lauded bench, who proved to be the difference-makers in game four, were mostly silent during the first two periods.
There was a firm possibility of a lopsided blowout, as El Lay busted out with a 32-9 run and built a 7-point lead at one time, as well as completely dominating any number of stats: shots from the paint, second chance points, rebounding...you name it.
Thankfully, the Suns didn't roll over and die (much like in games one and two). Gentry must've given his team a passionate barn-burner of a halftime speech in the locker room, since they came out and slowly chipped away at the lead. They also found their defense again, started playing small, and began upping the tempo from the methodical pace that the Lakers set in the first half. The second unit also woke up and contributed 29 points.
Down 74-56 in the third quarter, Phoenix went on a 16-4 run and started to silence the star-studded crowd at the Staples Center. Once again, Nash proved to be the hero and took the burden of inspiring his team by landing a bulk of his 29 points and hitting 12-for-20 shooting. Jared Dudley (who had a choice four-point play) and Goran Dragic (who was continuously flummoxed by the aggressive play of Sasha Vujačić) also made key contributions to enable the Suns to nip at L.A.'s heels into the fourth.
A Nash assist to Amar'e with less than 90 seconds left brought the Suns to within three before Richardson's miracle three-pointer opened the door to a win.
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Pity it was slammed shut by Artest.
"We had an opportunity to win and didn't quite get it done, but we're not gonna get discouraged." Gentry said after the game. "The first thing that Steve said when we went in the locker room was, 'Just forget about this one, it's time to concentrate on the next game,' and he's exactly right."
So it all comes down to this guys: Win tomorrow night, and you're going back to Cali for the final showdown on Memorial Day. Lose, and that's all she wrote for your unforgettable season.
Tune in to see if the Suns can pull it off. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.suns.com.