Artest saves best till last as Lakers beat Suns

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ron Artest sank the game-winning basket as time expired to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to a 103-101 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game Five of the Western Conference finals on Thursday.

With the game tied 101-101 in the closing seconds, Kobe Bryant came up short on a long jump shot but Artest slipped in for the rebound and scored to seal the victory and give the Lakers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"I'm just happy he made the play," Bryant told reporters. "I knew (Phoenix) would have two guys running at me and Ron was able to sneak in there."

Bryant delivered 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the game as the Lakers squandered an 18-point lead in the second half before sealing victory.

Jason Richardson banked in a game-tying three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left for the Suns, who got 29 points and 11 assists from Steve Nash.

After winning two in a row at home to tie the series, Phoenix looked like they might get blown away by the Lakers but fought back from 17 points down in the second quarter and then rallied from 74-56 with 3:44 remaining in the third.

Nash led the Suns revival with nine points in a three-minute stretch, and Richardson tied the game on a possession where Phoenix had three attempts at a three-pointer.

However, last season's NBA champions showed their mettle in the final seconds.

Derek Fisher finished with 22 points and Pau Gasol added 21 while Artest had made just 1-of-8 shots prior to his game-winner.

Artest has struggled to fit in with the Los Angeles offense after signing in the offseason as a free agent. His game-winning basket made up for a poor shooting night and an ill-advised three-point attempt in the last minute when the home team should have been running down the clock.

"There was a point in time where I shot 40 percent from three so I just have to play -- I've hit shots before," Artest said. "You never know when that big game is going to come."

Game Six is on Saturday in Phoenix and the Lakers will attempt to clinch the series and reach their third successive NBA Finals.

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing Peter Rutherford)