Thomas made two huge 3-pointers, Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion each scored six points in overtime, and the Phoenix Suns beat the Lakers 126-118 Thursday night to force a Game 7 in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Kobe Bryant scored all but one of the Lakers’ 13 points in overtime, and finished with a career-playoff high 50.
But it was all for naught, and now, the much-anticipated Battle of L.A. is in jeopardy.
Game 7 will be played Saturday night in Phoenix, where the second-seeded Suns beat the Lakers 114-97 to send the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6. The home team has a 75-17 advantage in NBA playoff Game 7s.
“Our place is going to be crazy on Saturday,” Thomas said.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game at home,” said Steve Nash, who led the Suns with 32 points and 13 assists. “We feel like we’re better at home. Our team feels good with the opportunity to play for the series.”
Thomas forced the overtime by making a 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bryant, the hero in Game 4, tried for another game-winner at the buzzer, but Marion got a piece of the ball and it fell short of the basket as time ran out.
Two baskets by Diaw and another by Marion gave the Suns a 113-109 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in overtime, and Thomas’ 3-pointer with 1:41 left put Phoenix ahead by seven. The Lakers weren’t closer than five points after that.
“It was a normal shot,” Thomas said of the 3-pointer that forced overtime. “I had missed the last two. It felt good when it left my hands. I wasn’t concerned about the atmosphere.
“I felt the Lakers were tight down the stretch. They don’t have too many guys with experience in these types of situations. They wouldn’t take the shots — they kept passing to Kobe.”
The winner of the series will face the Clippers—co-tenants of Staples Center with the Lakers. Two teams from Los Angeles have never met in postseason play in the NBA, NFL or major league baseball.
Leandro Barbosa, starting for the suspended Raja Bell, scored 22 points for Phoenix. Thomas had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Marion had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Diaw added 19 points and seven assists.
“When your backs are against the wall, you can react two ways,” Nash said. “Obviously, we’ve reacted positively. There’s been some great games—a lot of drama as well, a lot of controversy.”
Bell was suspended for one game after clotheslining Bryant in Game 5. Bell was the Suns’ best defender against Bryant, a job Barbosa had Thursday.
“Leandro was great,” Nash said. “He stepped up offensively and battled Kobe. Kobe made a lot of shots but they weren’t easy. We did this for Raja.”
Said Barbosa: “I had to play well because Raja wasn’t there. I can’t wait to hand Kobe back to Raja on Saturday.”
The Lakers had won eight straight games at Staples Center including Games 3 and 4 of this series.
“They controlled the rhythm, they pushed the ball up well,” Bryant said. “We’re going into a hostile environment. We look forward to it. Let’s get it on.
“They had some great looks, they’re a great shooting team especially when they get their rhythm. We’ve got to contest every shot. We did not do a good job on Nash.”
Only four No. 7 seeds have won playoff series in 42 opportunities counting this series since the current playoff format was adopted in 1985.
The Suns shot 56.8 percent to the Lakers’ 55.3 percent. Los Angeles won the rebounding battle 39-31, but committed 20 turnovers to 14 for Phoenix.
“Both teams shot exceptionally well and played a lot of good offensive basketball,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “But that is their style, and we need to do a lot better job of playing our style on Saturday.”
Nash made two free throws with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter to give the Suns a two-point lead, but Bryant scored the next five points. The Suns missed a couple of shots but got the rebounds, and Marion got the ball to Thomas for the game-tying shot from the top of the key.
The Suns went on a 14-6 run early in the third quarter for a 74-65 lead. Bryant kept the Lakers in the game, scoring their first 11 points of the period.
George made two 3-pointers during a 13-4 run that put the Lakers ahead before the Suns scored the final five points of the third quarter for an 88-85 lead.
Barbosa took four stitches in his lower lip in the first quarter after being accidentally elbowed by Bryant. … Only seven NBA teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. Five went on to win won the championship. … The Lakers have never lost a series when leading 3-1, going 27-0. … The Suns have never won a playoff series when trailing 3-1. … Jackson’s previous 14 teams—nine in Chicago and five in Los Angeles—have all reached the second round of the playoffs, with nine winning championships. … Jackson-coached teams are 44-0 when leading in a playoff series. … Jackson’s 178 postseason victories are the most for an NBA head coach.