2010 NBA Playoffs: The Phoenix Suns Can Beat the LA Lakers, but Not Destiny

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2010 NBA Playoffs: The Phoenix Suns Can Beat the LA Lakers, but Not Destiny
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

My telephone began ringing just as Jason Richardson's desperation three-pointer dropped through the net, tying the score in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.

The caller was my brother-in-law, who was trying to gauge my mood after Richardson's shot, which was luck in its purest form, threatening to force what had been a dominant Lakers' performance into overtime.

My brother-in-law is only a casual fan of basketball, so it's unlikely he would remember the Lakers' history in these types of situations, and 3.5 seconds is an eternity compared to Derek Fisher's 0.4-second shot against San Antonio in 2004.

In fact, if he had been paying attention this year he would have been cognizant of Kobe Bryant's seven game-winning shots in the regular season, and Pau Gasol's Game Six, series-clinching putback against Oklahoma City in this postseason's first round.

He would have known the ball was going to Bryant for a final, desperate attempt, but even I didn't expect Ron Artest to gather in Bryant's missed shot, and with the same measure of luck which previously served Richardson, win the game for the Lakers with an awkward putback.

The Lakers' 103-101 victory gave them a 3-2 lead in the series and nullified a resilient performance from a gritty Suns team that twice fought back from double-digit deficits.

I have said this Lakers team is one of destiny, and Thursday night's game only confirmed my theory because the circumstances surrounding the game definitely were of an ominous nature.

The Lakers played their best defensive game of the series, which was critical considering how they had been getting blistered by Phoenix's pick and roll, but the Suns actually outdid the Lakers in that category.

The Suns held the Lakers to a series-low 41 percent shooting from the field and held their own on the boards, collecting 40 rebounds compared to the Lakers' 49.

The Lakers twice jumped out to leads that grew as large as 17 and 18 points, which would usually be a pretty good indication of a Lakers win, but each time the Suns were able to battle back, and they actually had the look of destiny's team at times.

Suns fans may have felt the same, especially after Steve Nash exploded for 29 points in his best offensive game of the series, and the Phoenix bench finally came to life on the road, accounting for 31 points after scoring two in the first half.

Nash and the Suns had the look of a team who were fully confident and focused on their goal, and there were a number of signs late in the game which gave credence to the feeling that Phoenix might have the chance to steal the game.

Jared Dudley's four-point play was one of those moments, and Amar'e Stoudemire's lay-up right before the shot clock expired was another, but it all culminated with Richardson's second attempt on a three-shot possession for the Suns.

It seemed fate was on the Suns' side, especially after Artest amazingly decided to hoist a three-pointer with 50 seconds remaining in the game and a slim three-point Lakers' lead instead of burning the clock.

Richardson's shot deflated the Lakers and Staples Center, but Los Angeles has been in this situation before, and why not trust Bryant, who had posted 30 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds, once again flirting with a triple-double?

Or put the ball in Fisher's hands? After all, he'd scored 22 points and finally found the shot that had deserted him for the majority of this postseason.

Gasol was another candidate, because even though he was mostly bottled up by the Suns' collapsing zone defense, he had managed to use his superior height to score several key baskets.

With 3.5 seconds remaining the Lakers had options, and I was confident of this as my brother-in-law continued to scream in my ear, but Artest's putback was the unlikeliest option of them all.

It's also ironic that Richardson was the player who failed to block Artest out, which was an ultimate goat-to-hero, hero-to-goat instance for both players, in what may have been the deciding game of the series.

Phoenix will no doubt return to the desert with the knowledge they can beat the Lakers, as they have shown, but even if they prevail in Game Six, the Suns have to return to Los Angeles and be forced to battle destiny as well.

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