LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Steve Nash kept Phoenix hanging around in the fourth quarter until Jason Richardson tied it up in the waning seconds only to see the Suns get eclipsed by a buzzer-beating offensive rebound Thursday night.
Phoenix tangled up Kobe Bryant on a last-ditch three-point attempt, but Ron Artest sneaked in, grabbed the rebound and scored to give the Los Angeles Lakers a 103-101 victory.
“We just got to be really fortunate it didn’t happen in a deciding game,” Nash said. “We have to go home with a lot of strength from this game.”
The loss left Phoenix trailing the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading back to the desert for Game 6 on Saturday.
Bryant doesn’t expect the defeat to demoralize the Suns.
“Not that team,” he said. “They’ll bounce right back and play loosey-goosey.”
Nash, a Victoria native, had 29 points and 11 assists, taking over the final five minutes in a showcase of shotmaking. He made a three-point play, hit a fadeaway, then scored in the face of Pau Gasol before Richardson’s three-pointer tied it at 101 with 3.5 seconds to go.
“I was just determined to try to win. I kept getting opportunities,” Nash said. “It was a crazy game. It had a bit of everything. We found a way to tie it up and we lost on a last-second putback.”
Richardson watched Bryant’s three-point attempt go airborne, thinking it was going to hit the rim.
“I didn’t know it was going to come up that short,” he said. “I looked and turned and he (Artest) was already heading over that way.”
Amare Stoudemire added 19 points, Channing Frye had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Richardson 12. Robin Lopez, a key contributor in Game 4, was scoreless with two rebounds in 11½ minutes.
“We really wanted to win this one,” Stoudemire said. “We were losing and we played desperate. We need that the whole 48 minutes.”
Phoenix’s bench, which outscored the Lakers’ reserves 54-20 in Game 4, did it again, holding a 31-24 edge. But the Suns got clobbered 18-5 on second-chance points, and were outscored 38-26 in the paint.
The Suns rallied from 18 points down in the third, when the Lakers trapped them into a half-court game, to get within five while Nash and Stoudemire rested in the fourth. They didn’t enter the game until there was just more than five minutes left. Nash quickly went to work, scoring five straight points before Stoudemire got the Suns to 95-94 with 2½ minutes left.
Richardson’s only basket of the fourth tied it at 101.
Then came Artest’s amazing shot, not long after he missed two three-point attempts that left Lakers’ fans groaning. Artest was 2 of 9 from the floor, and 0 of 3 from long-range.
“We didn’t box Ron out,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “We let him walk right in and get the rebound.”
The Suns again threw a couple of zone defences at the Lakers, who kept the ball moving anyway. Phoenix outscored Los Angeles in both the third and fourth quarters, and held the Lakers to 42 per cent shooting from the field.
But none of it added up to a victory.
Still, Gentry couldn’t find much fault with his determined bunch.
“The only thing that’s negative is the way we approached the game. We weren’t quite as aggressive, and they got into us defensively,” he said. “We struggled a little bit getting in our offence. But on the defensive side of the ball, we did great.”
Gentry vomited on the court in the first half, not because he couldn’t stand what he was seeing, but because of a restaurant lunch that he said didn’t agree with him.
“Once you get it out of the system, everything’s OK,” he said. “It’s like a Friday night frat party.”