Lakers Rising 

Lakers Dramatic Last Win of Season

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers needed two last-gasp shots from Kobe Bryant to beat the Phoenix Suns.

Marc Stein's take
You knew they were going in.
The looping layup on a baseline drive to force overtime. The running all-net dagger from the right elbow at the OT buzzer.

You just knew they were going in because Kobe Bryant took both shots.

Plus ...

Nobody knows OT torture like the Phoenix Suns.

To read more of Marc Stein's analysis, click here.


And two uncharacteristic mistakes from Phoenix star Steve Nash.

Bryant made a looping runner with seven-tenths of a second left in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and a 17-footer as time expired to lift the Lakers to an improbable 99-98 victory over the Suns and a 3-1 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.

"It was the most fun shot I've ever hit, just because it's us, enjoying this as a unit," Bryant said regarding the latest in a long line of buzzer-beaters during his 10-year career.

Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three championships, from 2000-02, but with O'Neal gone, last year's team failed to make the playoffs.

Many thought it would be the same story this season. But now, the Lakers are one win away from advancing to the second round.

"I have played a lot of playoff basketball and I have never had a game quite like this, with our backs against the wall, seemingly out of it, and us just battling back and getting this `W," Bryant said. "We matured about 10 to 15 years today. We did a lot of growing up in this game."

The Lakers, who have won the last three games, can win the best-of-seven series Tuesday night in Phoenix. A sixth game, if necessary, would be Thursday night at Staples Center.

The Suns appeared to have the game won late in the fourth quarter and again in overtime, but the Lakers took advantage of Nash's mistakes.

Nash made a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime to give the Suns a 98-95 lead. Bryant's layup with 11.7 seconds remaining drew the Lakers within one point, and Luke Walton tied Nash up with 6.1 seconds to play.

Walton won the tip, with Bryant chasing the ball down near the scorer's table and then dribbling to the right corner of the key, where his ninth field goal in 14 tries swished through cleanly.

"It felt routine to me," Bryant said.

The Lakers then mobbed their superstar, who has become more of a facilitator than a scorer during this series, with his output dropping more than a dozen points from his 35.4-point average during the regular season.

"I have been involved in a lot of wild ones, and that one was right up there," said Phil Jackson, who has coached an NBA record-tying nine championship teams including three with the Lakers.

The shot Bryant made to tie the game at 90 and force overtime was made possible when Smush Parker poked the ball away from Nash. Phoenix's James Jones then failed to score after taking a lob pass near the Lakers' basket as the fourth period ended.

Nash wouldn't say he got fouled on either big play he was involved in.

"In those situations, those are tough calls to make," he said. "The first one, I slipped. The second was pretty physical. Boris (Diaw) was calling time out. I don't know. It was a jump ball.

"There were some costly plays down the stretch that didn't go our way. We did everything we could to win the game. It wasn't meant to be."

Nash also said his back stiffened up after he returned to the game early in the fourth quarter, but quickly added: "We still had our chances to win."

He shot 2-of-11 after halftime.

Regarding Bryant, Nash said: "It was amazing. He had two opportunities and made two great shots."

Phoenix's Tim Thomas expressed anger and frustration concerning the big plays involving Nash.

"We have Nash, the NBA's MVP last year, and he can't get a call," Thomas said, alluding to the play when Parker stole the ball.

"Boris and Steve called timeout, but we did not get the call," Thomas said of the play leading to the jump ball. "It was the most difficult loss, by far, of my career."

Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Bryant had 24 points and eight assists, Kwame Brown added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Devean George scored 11 points -- all but two in the fourth quarter.

Nash led the Suns with 22 points and 11 assists, but scored only six points after halftime. Diaw had 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Shawn Marion had 20 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter, and Thomas scored 12 points.

"I thought we had it won twice," Marion said.

The Suns took what appeared to be a safe 90-85 lead on Diaw's foul shot with 12.6 seconds remaining, but Parker made a 3-pointer with 7.9 seconds left to draw the Lakers within two. He was 1-of-10 from the field before that.

Phoenix then called a timeout, and Parker made his big steal from Nash shortly after the Suns inbounded the ball in their frontcourt. George got the ball to Bryant for the tying basket.

"We made big shots, but they made bigger shots," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Bryant played only 9 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, but the Suns failed to take advantage. The game was tied 41-all at halftime.

Game notes
The Lakers have won 12 of their last 13 home games and 14 of their last 18 overall. ... The Lakers outrebounded the Suns 42-41 after outrebounding them 53-34 in Game 3, which they won 99-92. ... No team coached by Jackson has ever lost a series when leading 2-1, going 22-0 in such situations. ... Marion got his first double-double of the series. He was third in the NBA with 60 during the regular season ... Lakers C Chris Mihm was on the inactive list because of his sprained right ankle. He missed 17 of the final 18 games of the regular season and hasn't played in this series.

Diaw LeadsTo Lakers' Third Straight Loss In Game Seven

PHOENIX -- Raja Bell says he watched from a Beverly Hills restaurant bar with "30 or 35 Laker fans" as his Phoenix Suns teammates pulled off an inspired victory without him in Los Angeles.

The minute Game 6 was over Thursday night, Bell called Steve Nash in the locker room, screaming words that Nash said he really couldn't understand. It was elation mixed with relief because Bell knew his one-game suspension for bulldogging Kobe Bryant and throwing him to the court did not cost the Suns the series.

Instead, Phoenix is on the verge of becoming the eighth team in NBA playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to advance.

The deciding Game 7 of this most intriguing of first-round matchups is Saturday night at US Airways Center in Phoenix.

That talk of an all-L.A. second-round series between the Clippers and Lakers will vanish like foothills in the smog if Phoenix wins.

The Lakers took their 3-1 series lead by slowing the pace, with Bryant getting his teammates involved rather than dominating the offense. The last two games, though, the Suns have scored 240 points. Bryant scored 50 Thursday night, but Phoenix won 126-118 in overtime.

"We really played awful defensively," Bryant said. "We were absolutely terrible."

The Lakers' Phil Jackson has never lost a first-round serie as a coach and is 44-0 in series in which his team has led.

He tried to describe the Lakers' situation in as positive terms as he could.

"I think there's more pressure on the home team sometimes in Game 7," Jackson said. "Sometimes you're more relaxed on the road. We feel OK about the game. We've won over there."

Still, the home team is 75-17 in Game 7s.

Nash, coming off a 32-point, 13-assist performance, said the players should cherish the moment when they play Saturday night.

"Game 7s are always kind of the pinnacle of our sport," he said. "To play an elimination game with both teams having their backs to the wall is when the game is most exciting, and hopefully all your hard work pays off."

Bryant averaged 42.5 points against the Suns in the regular season, and Phoenix won three of the games. But Suns coach Mike D'Antoni isn't buying the theory that when Kobe scores big, the Suns win.

"I don't quite believe it," D'Antoni said. "I think he's trying to figure out the game. If his guys can get it done, he lets them get it done. If they can't, maybe he's trying to do it. It's a fine line. It's not easy. That's something they have to figure out, not us."

Shawn Marion insisted he will be as energetic as always despite an exhausting 50 minutes of play Thursday night. He had 20 points and 12 rebounds, including the offensive rebound that led to Tim Thomas' game-tying 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation. But D'Antoni said fans might not realize the defensive effort Marion put out, taking turns guarding either Bryant or Lamar Odom.

D'Antoni said his staff charted Marion with 20 deflections, as many as an entire team gets on a good night. Those deflections helped lead to 20 Lakers' turnovers, seven by Bryant.

Leandro Barbosa, replacing Bell in the lineup, gave the Lakers problems with his speed. The 23-year-old Brazilian finished with 22 points despite needing four stitches in his lip from an elbow by Bryant, but will go back to his normal reserve role Saturday night.

One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround in the series, D'Antoni said, is the improved play of Boris Diaw. With Diaw more aggressive, the Lakers have to choose between covering the perimeter or allowing the wiry Frenchman to drive to the hoop.

"We're not going in with the mind-set that we're going to shoot 3s," D'Antoni said. "It depends on what they give us. If they're not going to give us the 3s, that's fine, then Boris is going to score more inside. We're not just an all-outside team."

Like Nash, Bryant relishes the opportunity to play in such a big game. The only question is whether is less experienced teammates will share the enthusiasm and not get rattled by the noise and the importance of the contest.

"You just go after everything full bore, more so than usual," Bryant said. "The guys are ready, they'll be loose. We weren't even supposed to be in the playoffs, let alone beat the Suns. This is a great opportunity for us."

Lakers Sag After Suns Series Win Blown

PHOENIX, May 6 (Ticker) -- After Leandro Barbosa helped the Phoenix Suns to a big lead, Kobe Bryant decided to do nothing about it.

Barbosa scored a playoff career-high 26 points as the balanced Suns completed their comeback with a 121-90 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive seventh game of their Western Conference first-round series.

Boris Diaw added 21 points and Shawn Marion had 14 and 10 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who became just the eighth team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit.

Following a 114-97 win in Game 5 that prolonged the series, the Suns gained even more momentum in a 126-118 overtime triumph in Game 6. Tim Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left in regulation to send the sixth game into overtime.

Back in front of their home fans, the Suns overwhelmed the seventh-seeded Lakers in the decisive game, never trailing and leading by as many as 33 points.

"It was the heart and perseverance of our guys to overcome Game Four," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Thinking that we were slighted. We tried to do the right thing, we kept getting hit, and they had enough. Whether they turned it on or thought about it subconsciously I don't know but from that moment we played the way we played all year."

Barbosa, who scored 22 points while getting the start in place of the suspended Raja Bell in Game 6, again was a major factor in this one.

Coming off the bench, Barbosa scored 15 points in the first half as the Suns shot 60 percent (25-of-42) and opened a 60-45 advantage. They led by at least 14 points the entire second half.

Barbosa made 10-of-12 shots overall in 30 minutes.

"I think I figured out my game," Barbosa said. "At the beginning everybody knew they had to do more. Right now I have a lot of confidence. Maybe it is concentration and focus. I wasn't worried about points. I was trying to be aggressive. That is the way I like to play."

"It does help that he is one of the fastest guys on earth and one of the best shooters from three," D'Antoni said. "It was amazing what he and Boris Diaw did in the first half."

Bryant tried to keep the Lakers in it in the first half by scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The league's leading scorer, Bryant netted 50 points in Game 6.

But in a puzzling disappearing act, Bryant deferred to his teammates in the second half Saturday, taking just three shots and scoring one point on a technical free throw.

"If we were going to get back in this type of game we had to have everybody contributing," Bryant said. "In the first half I started to pick it up offensively just to keep us in the hunt. If we were going to get back into the game in the second half everybody has to get into a rhythm and that didn't happen."

Through the first four games of the series, Bryant had been giving more responsibility to his teammates. The superstar attempted 35 shots in Game Six, but faded in the second half in his team's biggest game of the season.

"We wanted to get back in the game so we were running things through other guys," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Nash was a little bit banged up and we were trying to use out inside out game. Kobe just sat on that game plan and let the other things happen."

When Bryant decided to stop shooting, the Suns decided to run the Lakers off the court. A pair of free throws by Marion with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter gave Phoenix an 80-56 bulge. Phoenix held a 90-65 bulge entering the final period.

Steve Nash contributed 13 points and nine assists and Bell scored 13 for Phoenix, which will meet the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is here Monday.

Bell had battled Bryant all series and was ejected during Game 5 when he clotheslined Bryant and then threw him to the ground.

"I can't really give you an answer why he didn't shoot in the second half," Bell said. "Whatever happened we've got bigger fish to fry now."

"I really don't think about him defensively," Bryant said. "It is not like when I go up against a Bruce Bowen or a Ron Artest. They make you think about what you do out there. It's not like that."

Possibly the only bad news for the Suns is that Nash - the reigning MVP who reportedly will win the award for a second straight season - appeared a bit slow after tweaking his ankle in the first half.

"It will be fine after the next day and a half," Nash said.

The Suns had seven players reach double figures and shot 61 percent (47-of-77), including 10-of-21 from 3-point range.

Jackson, who has won nine NBA titles, had been 44-0 when leading in a series.

"It is a shame we couldn't give them a better game today," Jackson said. "You could see early on that things were going to be a little strained for us. The first five minutes on it seemed like they were a step quicker and a step better offensively and we had jitters today."

Luke Walton scored 16 points and Lamar Odom 12 for the Lakers, who shot just 35 percent (32-of-91).


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