Phil Jackson wasn’t sure why he was in, but Ron Artest made the play of the day. It’s all about the little things, like just boxing out.
One of the great things about Los Angeles: Amazing food. Sure, there is great food in Phoenix, too, but LA’s version brings some Hollywood flair to it
Like deep-fried artichoke. Suns coach Alvin Gentry tried that for lunch at a LA area restaurant the afternoon before Game 5. That ended up being the first thing that made him sick to his stomach on Thursday.
“For some reason, it didn’t sit well with me,” said Gentry.
Gentry threw up during the first quarter (and had a trash can near his feet the rest of the night because he would not leave the sidelines). He took an IV at halftime. But the man is tough. He never left the sidelines, like a player with a broken nose he would not come out.
Although, he may have wished he had for the final 3.5 seconds.
In case you missed the game and then have spent the last seven hours avoiding all other contact with human beings (or, you know, sleeping), here is the shot everyone is talking about.
Watch Ron Artest on the play. He is a decoy that goes to the far side of the court and is at the opposite side three point line when Kobe Bryant starts his shooting motion. But he wanted the ball and went and got it.
The Suns were right there. They were within striking distance, with plenty left in the tank, and thanks to a miracle three by Jason Richardson, had a real shot at forcing overtime and taking the decisive Game 5. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Ron Artest’s put-back crushed those hopes with a few bounces on the rim, but that doesn’t change where the Suns were and how they got there.
Or rather, who got them there. Steve Nash was absolutely magnificent in the fourth quarter, and he had a performance worthy of his MVP standing. Nash was responsible for 11 straight points prior to Richardson’s three-pointer, all products of his own creative efforts. These weren’t catch-and-shoot looks, but contested drives to the basket and pull-up opportunities that found nothing but net. Nash is just that good of a scorer when he wants to be, or in this case, when Phil Jackson wanted him to be.
Nash clearly didn’t shrink from the spotlight, and it was Steve’s efforts that put the Suns in a position to win Game 5. That said, the Laker defense switched on screens to better cover Amar’e Stoudemire on the roll, and stayed home on the Suns’ three-point shooters to avoid getting burned by the long-range game.
“They changed their defense tonight,” Nash said. “They switched more pick-and-rolls,
so [there were] more opportunities to isolate. So that’s really, again, we stick to
what we do and just try to read the defense and make the right play.
And tonight, since they changed, I tried to change.”
It worked…to an extent, as Stoudemire only had 19 points on 12 shots and the Suns were a merely average 33.3% (9-of-27) from three-point range. Nash, meanwhile, put up 20 field goal attempts, which was by far the high among the Suns and understandably so considering the game had relatively few possessions (90).
Had Ron Artest not leaped out of the shadows to grab the game-winning bucket, the Lakers’ defensive strategy on Nash would undoubtedly be considered part of their downfall. Steve was that good down the stretch.
There are a lot of distributors in this league that opposing coaches should seek to “make into a scorer,” as a means of halting ball and player movement. Nash doesn’t seem like he’d be such a player; Steve is one of the best shooters in the league (if not the very best), and he scores so efficiently that he can carry an offense if need be.
The only trouble is that history is Phil Jackson’s ally in this case. Nash’s game seems like it would be triumph over such a strategy (and in Game 5 it was, as Nash finished with 29 points on 60% shooting while still getting his 11 assists), but in playoff games where Steve has taken 20 or more attempts (including this one), the Suns are 3-8. Take away overtime games, and the Suns are 2-6 in such games. Stats like that aren’t necessarily fair after a game like this one, but it’s an interesting trend if nothing else.
Don’t misunderstand my meaning; this game’s result is not justification for the method. Nash very nearly won the game for the Suns, and with a few more free throw makes (Phoenix shot an unseemly 20-of-29 from the line), defensive stops, or rebounds, he probably would have. This one just went the other way, despite an awfully strong performance from one of the best point guards in the game.
Phil Jackson has seen everything.
Well, except a player go from goat to hero faster than Ron Artest did on Thursday night, he said.
With one minute left and the Lakers up three, Artest took an early-in-the-shot-clock three that literally had half of Staples Center yelling, “nooooo.” Fans scorned him — “Trevor Ariza never would have taken that shot” — and Jackson said he almost benched him.
“I don’t know why I left him in the game,” Jackson said. “I actually
questioned it myself when I put him out there on the floor, and there he
was. Made the key play.”
Tied 101-101 with 3.5 seconds left, the Suns defended the Lakers inbound play perfectly. Everyone in Staples (and watching at home, and in the Milky Way) knew the ball was headed to Kobe. It did, and Kobe went for the quick catch, spin and shoot from three. But Grant Hill got his hand in there to force Kobe to double-clutch. The shot was short and the game was headed to overtime.
Then came Ron Artest.
“I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot,” Artest said. “So I just kind of figured it was going to be short…. And it was a little short.”
While nine other players on the court were ball watching, Artest moved from the weak to the strong side, caught the short airball, landed, spun and put up a quick bank shot. Net. Lakers 103-101, and what had looked like a series that might get away from the Lakers suddenly is firmly in their grasp, up 3-2.
Was that the biggest shot of Artest’s career?
“Biggest layup,” he said.
Artest was mobbed by his teammates and Staples Center was as loud as it has been since last year’s NBA Finals. Maybe louder.
Up to that point, save for one big steal and break away layup, Artest had not had an impact on the game. Then he had the bad one with a minute left, first taking a questionable jumper with the Lakers up three. But Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound and kicked it back out to Artest for a full new 24-second clock. And Artest launched a three that almost made him the goat because the Suns now had life (and they had been fighting back all night). Two missed threes and two Suns offensive rebounds later, Jason Richardson called bank and hit the three that tied the game. Okay, he didn’t call bank. But nobody cares, it still counts. Game tied 101-101.
But then came the shot. Maybe THE shot of the playoffs so far. And there was nothing but love for Artest in Staples. He was mobbed by teammates, fans screamed. And the Suns all felt nauseous.