Ron’s Redemption Gives L.A. Buzzer-Beating Win

60582420With one minute to go in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and the Lakers up 101-98, Ron Artest missed a 20-foot jump shot, then promptly hoisted a three-pointer after Pau Gasol dished out an offensive rebound with a new shot clock.

He missed, his seventh errant shot in eight attempts, much to the ire of the STAPLES Center crowd (not to mention Phil Jackson).

Over the course of the next minute, Channing Frye would brick a three with Gasol following suit on a driving dunk attempt before Jason Richardson banked home Phoenix’s third three-point attempt of their final possession (thanks to two long rebounds), tying the game at 101 with 3.5 seconds left.

Quite a bit to take in already, but still plenty of time for Kobe Bryant to nail a buzzer-beater, right?

After all, perhaps the only ending better suited for Hollywood would be Artest – seeking redemption – crashing in from the weak side to grab Bryant’s missed turnaround three-pointer from the right wing, then lay the ball in off glass as the shot clock flashed red to signify the game’s end.

Crazy, right?

Well, it happened.

60582416Artest did just that and won the game for L.A., creating a 3-2 series lead to put the Lakers one win away from their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

“As a group, it’s always fun to have wins like this at the buzzer,” said Bryant, who happened to make seven shots in the final seconds in the regular season. “Especially for Ron … I’m very happy for him.”

“I was extremely excited and happy for him,” offered Lamar Odom, who began playing AAU ball with Artest when the two were 12-year-olds in Queens, N.Y. “I always remind him that this is why he came here. His whole career, his whole life, was about perseverance, sticking with it. Tonight was a prime example of that.”

When Artest’s put-back went down, it was so loud in STAPLES that the buzzer couldn’t be heard as Artest was first embraced tightly by Bryant, then mobbed by his entire team in the corner opposite Phoenix’s bench.

“Yeah,” Artest nodded when asked if the shot were the biggest of his career. “Biggest layup. I missed a lot of layups during the regular season.”

But he made the biggest one, by a few hundred miles. Question: why was he in that position in the first place?

Artest explained that he thought Bryant was fouled on his attempt, so he “kind of figured it was going to be short, looked like he got hit on his arm a little bit … and it was a little short.”

Bryant was again brilliant in a game L.A. largely controlled (leading by as many as 18), again coming as close as possible to a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists,* Odom had a big 17-point, 13-rebound double-double off the bench, Gasol chipped in 21 points, nine boards and five assists and Derek Fisher came through with a season-high 22 points, but it was Artest’s moment.
*Bryant missed triple-doubles in Games 3 and 4 by a total of four rebounds.

“We’re very happy for Ron because Ron’s been asked to sacrifice a lot of his game to really try and fit in,” said Fisher. “Sometimes it makes it hard for him to have the rhythm and the fluidity to his game that he’s capable of having, but he sacrificed a lot to help us get to where we’re trying to go. That’s why we’re so happy for him.”

“I think it means a lot for him,” added Bryant. “He’s kind of been going up and down, emotionally it was a big boost.”

60582423L.A. had led by as many as 11 early in the fourth when Bryant nailed his fourth three of the game (and 10th in two games), but the Suns refused to go away, hitting three fourth quarter threes of their own and getting to the line eight times to hang around until the final stanza.

Overall, the statistics favored L.A., as the Purple and Gold out-rebounded Phoenix 49-40 (including 19 offensive boards), won the paint point batle 38-26, committed 11 turnovers to 15 from the Suns and blocked 10 shots, though Phoenix did manage to take more free throws again (29 to 23, much to the Lakers’ collective chagrin) and shoot a higher percentage (46.8 to 41.8).

Since it won’t be remembered, here’s Artest’s final stat line for the game: four points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals, two turnovers, one block and four personal fouls on 2-of-9 shooting.

Instead, there’s just the moment when he darted into the lane, corralled a superstar’s miss and stuck it back in.

The shot instantly brought his team to its 11th straight home playoff win, its 19th all-time without a loss in Game 5′s of a 2-2 series, and delivered a chance to close things out in Saturday’s Game 6 in Phoenix.

Until then, your numbers:

POSTGAME NUMBERS
00.0 Time showing on the clock when Artest’s game winning put-back attempt off Kobe Bryant’s missed three went through the net, though the ball was obviously out of his hands before the scoreboard flashed red. The biggest shot of Artest’s career was just his second hoop in nine attempts.

1 Assist short of a triple-double for Bryant, who finished with 30 points, 11 boards and nine assists. In Game 3, Bryant missed a triple-double by one rebound, while falling three boards shy of still another TD in Game 4.

3 Points for Goran Dragic in a frustrating 12:37 of playing time in which Slovenian countryman Sasha Vujacic followed his every move around the floor, helping hold the Suns’ Game 4 spark plug to three points on 1-of-5 shooting with four personal fouls, one assist and two turnovers.

8 Wins for L.A. in its last nine attempts at closing out a series, the only loss coming in Game 6 at Houston in the 2009 Western Conference Semi’s.

13 Rebounds for Lamar Odom to lead the Lakers, who won the glass 49-40 thanks in part to 19 offensive glass cleans. Odom had five of those O boards, and added 17 points off the bench with four assists.

29 Free throws attempted by the Suns, six more than were taken by the Lakers, including a 15-6 edge in the second half. A category L.A. wanted to win prior to the game proved unattainable despite frequent drives into the paint.