Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 103, Phoenix 101; Los Angeles Lakers lead series, 3-2

First off, it wasn't a "miracle shot." It wasn't even a lucky shot. Jason Richardson's(notes) banked-in three-pointer? The shot that tied the game for Phoenix just a possession before? That was a miracle shot. A lucky shot. You miss the shot by three feet and yet it still goes in? Lucky shot.

Ron Artest's(notes) game-winning put-back was just a sound offensive maneuver. Given to the Lakers just a few real time minutes after Ron had tossed up a  terrible three-point attempt that had just about everyone watching in person and on the tube aghast.

As has been mentioned, I'm sure, by somebody else at this point, the whole turn of events was Ron-Ron to a T. Doing just enough to keep you bringing him back for more. Trading for him. Signing him. Starting him. Appreciating him. He has you giving him the benefit of the doubt, even before he hits that shot, because despite all the reasons we have to walk away, none of us can quit Ron Artest.

Phil Jackson couldn't. I actually said out loud, as the final play of Game 5 started, "why is Ron out there? To set a good screen, I guess." And then he whiffed on a screen. And yet, he pulls this out. Can't blame the Suns; they had Kobe Bryant(notes) to consider, and you better send as many defenders as you can at this late-game giant. Ron just took what was there for the taking, and redeemed himself. He's got a knack for that.

The game was fantastic. There were holes - Phoenix allowed too many offensive rebounds, Los Angeles' offense fell flat for a stretch occupying the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth - but by and large this was an offense-heavy back-and-forth that was somehow decided on a terribly-missed-yet-made three-pointer, and a game-winner from the worst offensive player on the court on Thursday night. You couldn't help but love Game 5.

It wasn't just Bryant's 98 game-winning shots from 2009-10 that had the Suns scrambling to get a hand in his face on what they hoped would be the final possession (technically, once that ball hits the rim and Artest grabs the rebound, it's a new possession), Kobe's 30 points and 4-9 mark from long range entering the final play helped really tilt the court in his direction. He also dished nine assists and had 11 rebounds, and the Lakers needed every bit that they got from KB, who sat out just 75 seconds over the last three quarters of the game. 75 seconds.

His counterpart on the other end, Steve Nash(notes), had 29 points but could have registered a few more. I'm not putting him down by telling you that he probably could have dropped 40, because (especially in the first half) Nash missed some open'ish looks he usually makes, alongside two free throws. This means he was getting open, or open enough to hit Nash-styled shots, and I'm not discrediting the Lakers nor pointing to a change in defensive philosophy for that one. This was just all on Steve, running it.

Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic(notes) combined to shoot 6-17, which hurt, as every little bit of falling short kills in these close games. But the Suns played well. Very well. You might remember Channing Frye(notes) clanging three-pointer after three-pointer, but he actually made three of eight, which is a fine percentage, and had 14 points on 10 shots. 10 rebounds, too, which is usually a fortnight for him.

Everything - defense, rebounding, long range shooting, free throw work, bench play - could have been a little better for Phoenix. But on the road, this is usually how things flow. And they were 3.5 seconds away from overtime and potentially a 3-2 series lead heading home to Phoenix for a game.

The problem is that every possession counts, and sometimes the Suns just weren't as together as they were in Arizona. That's the "perfect game" that we talk about, the thing needed to take down the defending champs. You have to be on the same page, all the time,  in things like calling out the defensive structure in transition after a turnover (zone, or man-to-man?), and not overpassing offensively. This isn't to say that the Lakers don't take possessions off, they do. But they're good enough to get away with it, and you - whoever "you" are - are not. Not against them.

Derek Fisher(notes) (22 points) shot quite well. Andrew Bynum(notes) missed all five of his shots, but he rotated much better defensively in ways that showed up in the box score (four blocks), and did not (he, uh, rotated much better defensively). Five offensive rebounds and 13 overall for Lamar Odom(notes), who is just a terror in the glass with his quickness and length, and Sasha Vujacic(notes) gave great bench minutes while trying to tick off Goran Dragic (or "Doran Gragic," as Craig Sager called him at one point) in an extension of the feud that honestly had me laughing so hard tears were coming out of my eyes once they started tangling.

It was Kobe, though. Always on the court, compiling stats without having to dominate the ball. Four blocks, too. Just an all-around brilliant performance, and some of the best basketball I've ever seen him play, considering the circumstances. He's older, now, and those reverse shots aren't going in. They're not tossing him lobs, like they could have a few times in transition. But when he's focused and not trying to win the game with line drive 20-footers, he just as dominant as basketball players get.

And you know, hitting a couple of those mid-range shots with Suns running at him from all angles, that this comes from doing work. There was one look in the fourth with Dragic running up underneath him, where you knew it didn't matter if 1962-era Bill Russell was out there with a broom and a cap gun; because this was one of the shots Kobe takes 400 times a day in the summer, and he was just locked in. He was born with gifts, no doubt, but he's done so, so much with them. We're lucky to get to watch.

And lucky that we have a series. As close as Game 5 was, a subsequent Suns win in Phoenix is no gimmie, and they're going to have to play just as good if not better basketball in Game 6 just to keep their season alive.

For now? Great game. Thanks for it, two sides.

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