Kobe Bryant made sure there wasn’t going to be a Game 7 as he made three clutch shots down the stretch to lead the L.A. Lakers to a 111-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns and clinch the 2010 Western Conference championship.
L.A. will face the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, a matchup of two teams with a combined 32 NBA championship banners. Game 1 of The Finals begin Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Against the Suns in Game 6, the Lakers built a 12-point lead at halftime and led throughout the second half. But backup point guard Goran Dragic led a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Suns in which the home team sliced an 18-point deficit to three points with under three minutes remaining. Dragic ignited the surge when he scored six points in nine seconds, two coming on free throws after Sasha Vujacic was called for a Flagrant 1 foul when he hit Dragic in the chin as the two Slovenians got tangled up in the backcourt.
But when the game got close, the Lakers turned to the best closer in the game – Bryant.
After the Suns cut the lead to 99-96 with 2:19 left, Bryant got the ball on the wing and buried a shot over Grant Hill and Channing Frye to give the Lakers a five-point lead. Then, with 35.2 remaining, Bryant put the game away when he drove past the Suns bench, rose up over Hill and swished a fadeaway shot from about 22 feet to make it 107-100.
“Just had to keep attacking, trying to stay aggressive,” said Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 37 points – his ninth 30-point game in his last 10 playoff games.
“They had help coming from the weakside, with traps and things like that, and made it difficult for me to get to the basket. So, I just had to create a little bit of space and raise up,” Bryant said. “I had a good look, it looks like a tougher shot than it actually is. I got a good look, got my legs underneath me and was able to knock it down.”
Suns coach Alvin Gentry got a great view of Bryant’s fall-away shot and thought Hill played it about as well as any player could defend it. Unfortunately, Bryant was just better than any defense the Suns threw at him.
“After I had knocked down a shot, I just heard him mutter something like ‘That’s BS!’ Something to that effect. It just made me smile. I just padded them on the butt,” Bryant said of his sideline encounter with Gentry.
“I mean, what can you say about Kobe?” Gentry asked. “There’s an intense game going on and you almost have to laugh at what he does. I thought we played great defense on him and he just made tough shot, after tough shot.”
Bryant’s got some help offensively from Ron Artest, who carried over his game-winning play from Game 5 to a very solid 10-for-16 shooting night and 25 points in Game 6.