LOS ANGELES – Jason Richardson(notes) pulled his tie straight then continued to stand stoically in front of his locker. The Phoenix Suns’ bus was idling in the loading dock, but Richardson wasn’t moving. He stared blankly into space, replaying in his head what had gone wrong.
Some 30 minutes earlier, Richardson had watched his own heroic moment disappear under Ron Artest’s(notes) miracle: a buzzer-beating putback banked in after Artest had beaten Richardson to Kobe Bryant’s(notes) air ball. The shot gave the Los Angeles Lakers a 103-101 victory and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals while pushing the Suns to the brink of elimination. Moments before, Richardson had banked in a 3-pointer to seemingly send the game into overtime. Artest then turned the Suns’ elation into shock.
Richardson rubbed his hand over his forehead, hoping, perhaps, to erase the haunting memory.
“Can you believe what happened, man?” he said.
With Game 6 set for Saturday in Phoenix, the Suns don’t have long to get over their disappointment. They’ll use the time before then to focus on what they did right. After trailing by 18 points late in the third quarter, they rallied to tie the game on Richardson’s shot with 3.5 seconds left. Steve Nash(notes) and Richardson had both missed 3-pointers on the possession before Channing Frye(notes) grabbed the rebound and threw it back to Richardson, who quickly hoisted another long shot that banked hard off the glass and through the rim.
As the Lakers immediately called timeout, Richardson punched both of his fists into the air.
“It was a crazy game,” Nash said. “It had a little bit of everything and we found a way to tie it up.”
The Suns just couldn’t find a way to close it out. During the timeout, Lakers coach Phil Jackson drew up a play that had Bryant come from the baseline and run off a screen through the free-throw line before getting the ball near the sideline. The Suns smothered Bryant with a double-team, and he was forced to throw up a tough shot that fell about a foot short of the rim.
Before the buzzer sounded, the 260-pound Artest pushed the 225-pound Richardson under the basket, freeing himself to snatch the ball. Without anyone else to screen Artest, he spun and banked in a difficult shot as time expired. The Lakers poured onto the court to hug Artest while Richardson threw his arms in the air in disgust.
“We had great defense on Kobe then to let Artest slip under you, get a rebound and win the game?” Richardson said. “I just can’t believe it.”
When the dejected Suns reached the locker room, Nash made a point of telling everyone the outcome could have been worse. It could have been an elimination game. The Suns’ season could have been over. Instead, they will try to even the series on Saturday and force the Lakers into a Game 7 back at the Staples Center.
“Everything’s OK,” Nash said. “We came back obviously with a great effort. Maybe we deserved this game, maybe we didn’t. They held home court. We’ll go back and do the same and we’ll come back here for Game 7.”
That’s easier said than done. Until then, the Suns will try not to dwell on how close they came to taking control of the series.
“We got to forget and move on,” Richardson said. “We can’t do nothing about it.”