Lakers Advance to NBA Finals as Suns Comeback Falls Short in Game 6
The Suns trailed by as many as 18 in the third, but battled all the way back to within three with just over two minutes remaining. Kobe Bryant made sure that the Suns didn't come all the way back, however, by taking over late, and finishing with a game high of 37 points. Ron Artest was big for the Lakers early, getting 17 by halftime on the way to a season high of 25. Amar'e Stoudemire, in what very well might have been his last game as a Phoenix Sun, finished with 27 points, but did so by shooting just 7 of 20 from the field.
Hero of the Day
Artest carried the momentum from his buzzer-beating putback in Game 5 right on through to Game 6 and was the difference not just for a single play, but for most of the game's meaningful minutes. Artest had a season-best 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 4 of 7 from behind the three-point arc. He was active defensively, and was the key reason the Lakers led by 12 at the half and by as many as 18 in the third quarter.
But there was another hero for the Lakers, and that was the guy who's been doing it for them all season long: Kobe Bryant.
The Suns made a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, thanks to reserve guard Goran Dragic taking over the game after Sasha Vujacic of the Lakers laid him out with a flagrant foul. It went down like this: With the Suns trailing 91-74, Dragic hit a jumper over Vujacic, had some words for him, then walked into his back and gave him a little bump. Sasha responded by raising both arms, and in doing so, his left one made contact with Goran's face, dropping him to the floor.
The 9-0 run that the Lakers put on the Suns in the second quarter was what helped them to the double-digit halftime lead, but the turning point in a game that most thought was over when L.A. went up 18 in the third was the flagrant foul from Vujacic near the beginning of the fourth quarter. It ignited the crowd, it sent Dragic on a personal 8-0 run, it gave the Suns life, and it almost helped the Suns do the improbable. Lakers fans haven't cared much for Vujacic since 2008, and I imagine they like him even less after he almost cost them a chance to close out the series in Game 6.
Outside the Box
Pau Gasol has been a key component to a Lakers season that has them in position to potentially repeat as champions, but he was simply awful in Game 6. He finished with just nine points and seven rebounds in over 41 minutes of action and was extremely poor defensively, as proven by his five personal fouls. As bad as he played, though, he still managed to grab a critical offensive rebound for a putback with 1:14 to play, which kept the Suns from getting a chance to narrow the lead to three or less on the following possession. Much like Artest being there for the clutch play in Game 5 after not doing much all night before then, Gasol did the same for his team in Game 6.
You Had to Be There, Part 1
The Lakers had Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform the national anthem before Game 5 in Los Angeles. The Suns saw that performance and raised it when they brought in Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band for an outstanding acoustic version before Game 6.
You Had to Be There, Part 2
Many teams catapult free T-shirts into the crowd during timeouts and the Suns are no exception. But one elderly gentleman sitting in the row in front of me tried to reach up and grab one headed his way without leaving his chair, and the result was him leaning back too far, to the point where his chair tipped over and he landed flat on his back. He was fine, but there were a few tense moments as members of the local TV crew sitting in my section rushed to his aid.
You Had to Be There, Part 3
Vujacic and Dragic don't like each other, and that became evident again early in the fourth quarter when the two had their little dust-up. As soon as it happened, the crowd was on the verge of a riot, and as Vujacic was pleading his case to an official, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry was out on the floor pointing his finger at Vujacic, while shouting some likely unprintable words in his direction as well.
Dragic scored the next eight points of the game and single-handedly brought the Lakers' lead from insurmountable back into single digits. The crowd remained on its feet for much of the fourth quarter while the Suns made their run, and it was truly an electrifying atmosphere.