Los Angeles Lakers star Ron Artest nailed a game-winning shot to redeem himself from a poor performance and save his team’s victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. But he needed no redemption in Game 6 on May 29, as the Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns, 111-103, to advance to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive year.

Artest hasn’t shot the ball well during the series, so Phoenix left him open most of the time, a mistake that proved costly. Artest is the only Los Angeles starter without a championship ring, but he brought his A-game scoring 25 points on a 10-for-16 shooting spree from the field, and 4-for-7 from three-point land.

“The Lord was with him tonight,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters after the game. “The basketball gods were on his side.”

The only player hotter than Artest was superstar Kobe Bryant, who repeatedly nailed contested shots to finish with a game-high 37 points, the 10th time he’s scored at least 30 points in the last 11 postseason games.

“We played great defense on him,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “He made tough shot after tough shot.”

“I’ve always thought he was the best player in basketball,” Gentry added. “I don’t think it’s even close.”

With their exit, Phoenix may not get as close to the NBA Finals for some time, as free agency threatens to disperse the team’s roster. Star player Amar’e Stoudemire, who finished with 27 points, may opt out of the final year of his contract and sign with another team to contend for a championship.

But Phoenix captain Steve Nash, who scored 21 points with nine assists, hopes the team isn’t broken up.

“This is as special a group as I’ve been involved with,” Nash told reporters. “I’m really, really proud … I’d love to keep together.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles will now face the Boston Celtics in the finals for the 12th time, a matchup that should be filled with excitement. The NBA finals begin on Thursday, June 3.

“The challenge is to win a championship,” Kobe said. “The Celtics are in the way.”

 

Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor