Lakers:111 Suns:103 .Lakers Win 4-2.Lakers And Celtics Will Be Heading To The Finals.
The end result? The two teams heading to The NBA Finals are the same ones many had forecast way back in October's training camps.
The Lakers will join the Celtics in a Finals matchup of the league's marquee franchises after the Lakers raced past the Suns Saturday night in Phoenix 111-103. L.A. won the Western Conference finals 4-2.
"The challenge is to win a championship," said Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 37. "The Celtics are in the way."
The Suns, after two rousing wins in Arizona and a heart-breaking loss in Los Angeles, couldn't quite hang with the Lakers in Game 6.
The weirdest twist of the game was that the Suns invited the mercurial Ron Artest to shoot.
He obliged. Only he surprised everyone by knocking down his perimeter shots. Artest shot 10-for-16 (4-for-7 on 3-pointers) for 25 points.
"The Lord was with him tonight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The basketball gods were on his side."
Bryant shot 12-for-25, hitting clutch jumpers down the stretch, and knocked down 8-for-10 from the line. "We played great defense on him," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "He made tough shot after tough shot.
"I've always thought he was the best player in basketball. I don't think it's even close."
Artest was the wild card, though. His fourth 3-pointer made it 81-67. Moments later, the Lakers led 85-67; the outcome seemed inevitable.
But the Lakers' Sasha Vujacic committed a flagrant foul on fellow Slovenian Goran Dragic. That re-energized a crowd that started out raucous then grew sleepy when the Lakers started to pull away.
On the sideline, Bryant gave Vujacic a heated tongue-lashing. On the floor, Dragic then hit two free throws and two driving layups. That propelled a furious Suns' comeback.
"I thought they were dead in the water at that particular time," Jackson acknowledged.
But, "They were ignited by an incidental play. They jumped into the fray."
With the crowd standing and roaring, the Suns pulled to within 99-96 on a Steve Nash drive with 2:19 left.
Then Bryant knocked down a 21-footer, and -- a short time later, with the Lakers leading 105-100 in the final 40 seconds -- Bryant launched an off-balance 22-footer with the Suns Jared Dudley blanketing him.
He nailed it to seal the Lakers' trip to The Finals. Gentry groaned. Bryant patted him on the rear end.
Artest's stunning sharp-shooting was the biggest reason the Lakers were able to shoot over the Suns' defense, which alternated between zone and man-to-man.
The Lakers hit 10-for-24 on 3-pointers (42 percent) while the Suns shot a modest 9-for-26 (35 percent). The taller Lakers also outrebounded the Suns 41-31.
For the Suns, speculation will begin instantly on the future of Amar'e Stoudemire. He can become a free agent if he, as expected, declines the $17-plus million option year on his contract.
Gentry praised Stoudemire, saying, "Amar'e has worked hard to become better defensively and a better teammate."
Stoudemire had a subpar Game 6. He hit just 7-for-20 shots and -- in part because he often was posted on the perimeter in the Suns' zone -- he hauled down just four rebounds.
On the plus side, he hit 13-for-15 free throws and finished with 27 points. "We didn't give Amare room to drive," Jackson said. "We kept him off his shot."
Nash shot 8-for-11 for 21 points. He had nine assists and just two turnovers. Channing Frye had 12 points and 13 boards off the bench.
Looking back, "This has been the most enjoyable year of my coaching career," Gentry said. "We had high character guys. ... And we played extremely hard.
"I've not been around a team like this, with this chemistry, in my 22 years in the league. There are no negatives. We gave it our all."
Going into the series, Nash said he considered the Lakers were the better team. "But I thought we had a chance to do something special.
"The last four or five days, I've been questioning who the better team is."
"This is as special a group as I've been involved with ... I'm really, really proud ... I'd love to keep [the team] together."
Before the game, Jackson tried to shift the psychological burden to the Suns: "It's not always easy to play in front of your home crowd" in a must-win situation, Jackson said. "It's not as easy as people think."
"That's Phil," Gentry replied when hearing the Zen-Master's comments.