Lakers' win goes to 11
Artest may get the glory, but the Lakers' Game 5 win goes to all 11 players who played
LOS ANGELES -- What you'll remember about the Lakers' 103-101 Game 5 victory over the Suns 10 years from now will be Ron Artest's redemption-deeming desperation tip-in at the buzzer, but that's hardly what won the game for Los Angeles.
What will be obscured and maybe even forgotten 10 days from now, after the win that puts the Lakers just one win away from their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance -- "The Big Show," as Andrew Bynum calls it -- is the total team effort and increased execution that put them in position to win on Ron-Ron's save save.
Before the game, coach Phil Jackson's list of requirements to take back control of the series was pretty simple: penetrate and stop them from penetrating; rebound consistently; get to the foul line; and score in the paint while keeping them from scoring in the paint.
Through simple execution, the Lakers were able to eviscerate the memories of the Suns' resurgence in Phoenix, when a 17-7 turnover margin in Game 3, a 51-36 rebounding deficit in Game 4, and a 74-33 difference in free throw attempts over both games did L.A. in.
Thursday was a different story. Los Angeles had just 10 turnovers (to Phoenix's 15), making smarter passes against the zone. The Lakers won the battle of the boards 49-40 and outscored the Suns by 12 in the paint, capitalizing on their size once again. They kept pace at the foul line, taking nearly as many as the Suns (23 to 29) but making exactly as many (20 apiece).
The Lakers would have kept Phoenix below 100 points if it wasn't for that banked-in 3-pointer by Jason Richardson that tied the game 101-101; the Suns had averaged 116.5 points in the two games at home. L.A.'s defense racked up 10 blocks and did its best to neutralize Amare Stoudemire (19 points, four rebounds) after STAT's stats were 31.5 points and 9.5 boards per game at home.
Said Jackson: "You look at the stat sheet tonight, we did most of the things right: turnovers, rebounds, blocked shots."
Those cold, end-result statistics came from individual efforts by all 11 Lakers who played.
What won the game for L.A. was discipline in getting in the free throw penalty with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter and not allowing the Suns to get to the line for the rest of the quarter.
What won the game for L.A. was Kobe Bryant's checking out with two of those early fouls and Derek Fisher's picking up the scoring slack, scoring 11 of his 22 points in the period to carry the Lakers' offense.
What won the game for L.A. was a 35-year-old's youthful exuberance. Maybe it should have been a sign when Fisher used a quick-footed spin move to elude the door to the locker room that was being closed in front of him before the game instead of just putting an arm out to hold it, kind of the way that Indiana Jones rolls away from harm in the cave in the opening of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."
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"He played fantastic," Bryant said. "He was aggressive offensively. Took what the defense gave him. I felt defensively he did a great job."
What won the game for L.A. was Bryant's checking back in after just a few minutes rest and playing smart enough to not pick up his third foul, yet aggressive enough to go up and block a Stoudemire shot and not let the two fouls saddle him down.
Bryant continued his brilliant series, finishing with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to just miss a triple-double and bring his averages through five games to 33 points, 9.6 assists and 7.4 rebounds.
"He played a stellar game tonight," Jackson said. "Got in early foul trouble, had to sit a few minutes and then came back and played great."
What won the game for L.A. was Andrew Bynum's playing 19 minutes on his sore right knee and patrolling the paint while racking up four blocks and seven rebounds, even if he scored only two points. And what got Bynum in the game in the first place was trainer Gary Vitti's doing everything he could do for the past month to keep Bynum ready to play.
"The training staff right now is just trying to milk that swelling out of there and they're doing a good job, so I was able to go out there and be active defensively," Bynum said. "I think the defensive side today really helped us out. Tonight was definitely big. We changed it up because we started showing on the screen-rolls. I was out early before they could come off and it kind of just disrupted them."
What won the game for L.A. was Pau Gasol's constant production -- 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a missed dunk that could have actually lost the game for them, but only served to make Artest's winner that more dramatic.
What won the game for L.A. was the bench's waking up and not being such a liability, keeping pace with the Suns' second unit and getting outscored only 31-24.
What won the game for L.A. was Lamar Odom's wearing the same light purple shirt with a dark purple collar to the arena that he wore to Games 1 and 2 (maybe he actually bought into the whole "lucky" thing) and filling up the stat sheet with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
What won the game for L.A. was Jordan Farmar's production (two steals and four assists) and Shannon Brown's layup in the lane off an inbounds pass after the Suns looked to pull ahead early with Bryant out of the game.
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What won the game for L.A. was Sasha Vujacic's five points in the second half and his harassing defense on Goran Dragic.
"Always since we've been competing in the playoffs and we've been winning, it's been about bench," Vujacic said. "We had one of the best benches in the NBA and that was the biggest weapon, and now what he meant with that is I think we explored the bench, we went a little deeper on the bench, and we played good because we know how to play and we enjoy playing with each other."
Even Luke Walton, who didn't play a minute in Game 2, got into the winning formula, playing just four minutes but drawing a charge on Stoudemire, something that Jackson has challenged his team do more often.
"It was big for the team," Walton said. "Everyone at some point pretty much felt involved tonight. Ron hitting the game winner off the rebound, Fish stepping up all game long -- it was a really fun game for the most part and a real good team win. We have so much talent with Kob' and Pau and L.O. and Ron that sometimes we win and it's just them taking over. It was nice to see everybody just kind of step up and help out in different parts."
You will remember Artest. The guys in the purple and gold will remember everything else.
"There are a lot of things we did right," Bryant said. "It's important for us to focus on that. As a group, you know, it's always fun to have wins like this."
Dave McMenamin cover the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com