Phil Jackson has seen everything.
Well, except a player go from goat to hero faster than Ron Artest did on Thursday night.
With one minute left, Artest took an early-in-the-shot-clock three that literally had half of Staples Center yelling, “nooooo.” Jackson said he almost benched him.
A minute later he caught a last second shot by Kobe that was going short, landed, spun and hit a high bank shot that gave the Lakers a 103-101 win. Suddenly a series that looked like it was slipping away from the Lakers is now firmly in their grasp, they lead 3-2 heading back to Phoenix for Game 6 Sunday.
Was that the biggest shot of Artest’s career?
“Biggest layup,” he said.
The Lakers at times earned the win, with runs of their best defense of the series. Then they would give it back. Or Steve Nash would just get hot and look like a former MVP and there was nothing the Lakers could do about it.
Los Angeles came out in this game playing more like it was the Eastern Conference Finals — they were far more physical with the Suns, both in the paint and on the pick and roll. It had mixed results.
“Well, it didn’t work very well to begin with. We had a lot of fouls to start with…” Jackson said, referring to Kobe picking up two quick fouls and having to sit for part of the first quarter. “We wanted to play aggressively. We did play aggressively.”
What the Lakers started to do in the second quarter was be aggressive with their dribble penetration. It worked, breaking down the Suns offense that had reduced the Lakers to more of a jump shooting team in Phoenix. The Lakers went on a 31-10 run. The Suns tightened it up a little near the half, but the Lakers broke it open again in the third quarter and led by as many as 18.
But these Suns are resilient if nothing else. They do not let up, and they keep bombing away with threes. And when those shots start to fall, the Suns are as good as anyone.
That’s why it was close. That’s why the Lakers needed someone to be the hero at the end.
It’s just that nobody expected it to be the guy who was almost the goat.
Kurt Helin lives in Long Beach and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).