PHOENIX — Get ready, Boston, for a rematch with Kobe Bryant and his Lakers.
Bryant wrapped up a magnificent series with 37 points, Ron Artest added 25 and the Lakers held off the Suns 111-103 on Saturday to win the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers and Celtics, the NBA's premier teams for much of the league's history, will meet in the Finals for the 12th time with Game 1 on Thursday in Los Angeles.
"We'll see how much we've matured," Bryant said. "They challenged us extremely well in the Finals a couple of years ago. Now is a chance to see how much we've grown."
Bryant scored nine points in the final 2 minutes, including what looked like an impossible 23-footer with Grant Hill in his face and 34 seconds to play. The basket put the Lakers up 107-100 and the Suns were finished.
Amare Stoudemire, in what may have been his last game with the Suns, scored 27 on 7-for-20 shooting. Steve Nash had 21 points and nine assists in his 118th playoff game, the most for anyone who has never reached the Finals.
Bryant, with his 10th 30-point performance in his past 11 postseason games, moved ahead of Jerry West and into a tie with Kareem Abdul Jabbar for the second-most 30-point playoff games at 75. Chicago's Michael Jordan has 109.
The Lakers led by as many as 18 late in the second quarter and were up by 17 entering the fourth. But four reserves plus Stoudemire got the Suns back into it.
"With a 3-point shooting team like Phoenix," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "you know that any lead is not impossible."
After the Suns drew to 100-95 with 53.1 seconds left, Bryant responded with his dagger over Hill. "I just got a little separation," Bryant said.
|Lakers win series 4-2|
L.A. LAKERS (111): Artest 10-16 1-2 25, Gasol 2-9 5-6 9, Bynum 3-5 4-5 10, Fisher 4-9 3-3 11, Bryant 12-25 10-11 37, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Odom 3-12 0-1 6, Farmar 3-4 0-0 8, Vujacic 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 39-83 23-28 111.
PHOENIX (103): Hill 2-7 1-1 6, Stoudemire 7-20 13-15 27, Lopez 0-1 0-0 0, Nash 8-11 3-3 21, Richardson 3-7 5-6 13, Frye 5-7 0-0 12, Dudley 1-3 0-0 3, Barbosa 3-9 0-0 7, Dragic 5-9 2-2 12, Amundson 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 35-75 24-29 103.
3-Point Goals—L.A. Lakers 10-24 (Artest 4-7, Bryant 3-8, Farmar 2-3, Vujacic 1-2, Fisher 0-4), Phoenix 9-26 (Frye 2-4, Nash 2-5, Richardson 2-6, Dudley 1-2, Hill 1-2, Barbosa 1-3, Stoudemire 0-1, Dragic 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—L.A. Lakers 52 (Odom 12), Phoenix 42 (Frye 13). Assists—L.A. Lakers 18 (Farmar 5), Phoenix 19 (Nash 9). Total Fouls—L.A. Lakers 23, Phoenix 19. Technicals—L.A. Lakers defensive three second. Flagrant Fouls—Vujacic. A—18,422.
Howard not happy over Magic's ending
ORLANDO — The new arena will have no banner coronation.
The only thing following the Magic to the Amway Center next season will be memories of coming close. That elusive NBA title banner will not be raised on opening night. Again.
Failing to dig out of its 3-0 hole against Boston, Orlando finally succumbed four games to two in a 96-84 loss late Friday.
Center Dwight Howard was not pleased that his teammates diverted from the game plan, turning to one-on-one basketball in the third quarter.
"They made a run, and we stopped playing our game," Howard told the Orlando Sentinel. "Everybody wanted to do it on their own. … In a situation like this, you've got to keep fighting. They made their runs, and everybody started to hang their heads."
So now the Magic has to hope its core is enough to stay in contention in the future. Orlando is over the luxury tax and doesn't have much wiggle room in free agency.