By Jeramie McPeek, Suns.com
Posted: May 27, 2010
Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry vomited during the first quarter. Phoenix fans wanted to at the end of Game 5, as the Lakers escaped with a 103-101 win at the buzzer on Thursday night.
The wildest and most dramatic finish of the 2010 NBA Playoffs so far began with a missed three-point attempt by Steve Nash in the waning seconds of regulation. The Suns, having trailed by as many as 18 in the first half, had clawed their way back into the game and were within three points when the All-Star point guard grabbed his own offensive rebound and found Jason Richardson beyond the arc. A second miss from downtown L.A. was followed by a second offensive board later and a second chance for J-Rich, who this time pulled up from 30 feet and banked in the three-pointer that tied the game at 101 with 3.5 ticks on the clock.
To no one’s surprise, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Kobe Bryant, and the Suns immediately smothered him. With both Grant Hill and Jared Dudley in his grill, Bryant fired up a desperation shot from the corner. A rare air ball for the Lakers’ modern-day Mr. Clutch became an opportunity for L.A.’s Ron Artest to play the role of hero instead, by grabbing the rebound and putting it up and off the glass as the horn sounded. Lakers win.
“It was a crazy game,” said Nash, who led the way for the Suns with 29 points and 11 assists. “It had a bit of everything. We found a way to tie it up, and then we lost on the last-second put back. Just when we thought it was in overtime we lose. So that's life.”
The two-time NBA MVP, who is two wins away from the first NBA Finals appearance of his 14-year career, pulled his teammates together after the loss for an impromptu pep talk in the visitor’s locker room. His message? Let it go. The series is not over. Don’t dwell on the disappointment.
The words of wisdom clearly worked, as the Suns were upbeat on their charter flight back to Phoenix. There was an air of confidence in the air, as more than a few players and coaches talked about returning to Hollywood for a Game 7 on Monday. But first, the Suns realize they’ll need another win on Saturday, as the Western Conference Finals return to US Airways Center.
“We've got a chance to hold serve at home,” Nash told reporters during the postgame press conference. “And if we do that, we've got a wonderful opportunity to come back and make up for this one. So our attitude has to be great. We have to go home with a lot of strength from this game.”
Coming off the momentum of their wins in Game 3 and 4 in Phoenix, the Suns came out with some intensity in the opening quarter, particularly on the defensive end. Hill stole the ball from Bryant and Stoudemire blocked Lakers big man Pau Gasol twice in the first minute of play.
Nash scored nine points in the first quarter, but was topped by Lakers guard Derek Fisher’s 11. The Suns were also outrebounded 14-9 in the period, but were only down three points entering the second quarter. But that’s when they started to dig their hole.
The Suns turned the ball over on their first two possessions and sent Bryant to the free-throw line for the first of his 13 second-quarter points. Following a big-screen video in which he listed Gladiator as one of his all-time favorite movies, the All-NBA guard played like one, draining three consecutive three-pointers to open up a double-digit Laker lead.
With Hollywood heavyweights Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill and David Beckham sitting courtside, the home team widened the gap to 18 points early in the third quarter, but the Suns weren’t about to go down without a fight.
Encouraged to play more aggressively by Gentry – who received an IV during halftime, due to a fight of his own with food poisoning – the Suns started firing away. Dudley and reserve center Channing Frye knocked down 3-of-5 three-pointers and Phoenix shot a sizzling 56.3 percent in the period, cutting the Lakers’ lead to six entering the final stanza.
“We could’ve packed it in early, but we didn’t,” said Frye, who finished with 14 points and 10 boards on the night. “We’re a resilient group. We’re not giving up for nothing. I love playing with these dudes. These guys are warriors.”
The Phoenix warrior dudes aren’t giving up on the series, either, despite trailing 3-2 to the defending NBA Champions. Game 6, their first truly “must win” of the playoffs, will tip-off at 5:30 pm and the Suns will be ready.
“We’ve got to take care of business,” said Dudley, who contributed 10 points off the bench. “They’re going to come out ready to close it out. This is our first elimination game, so we’ve got to be focused and just get a win.”
OUT OF BOUNDS
As Suns players, coaches and staff stood around waiting to board their charter plane at LAX late Thursday night, a digital photo was being passed around and analyzed closely on more than one smart phone.
It was a grainy image of Bryant a moment before shooting the air ball that led to Artest’s rebound and buzzer beater. Whoever e-mailed the photo had added a red circle around Bryant’s heel, which appeared to be out of bounds with less than three seconds on the clock.
The Suns’ head coach didn’t care.
“Wasted energy,” said Gentry, waiving away the photo and even suggesting it was Photoshopped. “We shouldn’t be worrying about that. We need to concentrate on Game 6. That’s all we should be thinking about right now.”