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Bryant's bucket at buzzer pushes Suns to edge of elimination

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers needed two last-gasp
shots from Kobe Bryant to beat the Phoenix Suns.

And two uncharacteristic mistakes from Phoenix star Steve Nash.

Bryant made a looping runner with seven-tenths of a second left
in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and a 17-footer as time
expired to lift the Lakers to an improbable 99-98 victory over the
Suns and a 3-1 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff
series.

"It was the most fun shot I've ever hit, just because it's us,
enjoying this as a unit," Bryant said regarding the latest in a
long line of buzzer-beaters during his 10-year career.

Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three
championships, from 2000-02, but with O'Neal gone, last year's team
failed to make the playoffs.

Many thought it would be the same story this season. But now,
the Lakers are one win away from advancing to the second round.

"I have played a lot of playoff basketball and I have never had
a game quite like this, with our backs against the wall, seemingly
out of it, and us just battling back and getting this `W," Bryant
said. "We matured about 10 to 15 years today. We did a lot of
growing up in this game."

The Lakers, who have won the last three games, can win the
best-of-seven series Tuesday night in Phoenix. A sixth game, if
necessary, would be Thursday night at Staples Center.

The Suns appeared to have the game won late in the fourth
quarter and again in overtime, but the Lakers took advantage of
Nash's mistakes.

Nash made a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime to give
the Suns a 98-95 lead. Bryant's layup with 11.7 seconds remaining
drew the Lakers within one point, and Luke Walton tied Nash up with
6.1 seconds to play.

Walton won the tip, with Bryant chasing the ball down near the
scorer's table and then dribbling to the right corner of the key,
where his ninth field goal in 14 tries swished through cleanly.

"It felt routine to me," Bryant said.

The Lakers then mobbed their superstar, who has become more of a
facilitator than a scorer during this series, with his output
dropping more than a dozen points from his 35.4-point average
during the regular season.

"I have been involved in a lot of wild ones, and that one was
right up there," said Phil Jackson, who has coached an NBA
record-tying nine championship teams including three with the
Lakers.

The shot Bryant made to tie the game at 90 and force overtime
was made possible when Smush Parker poked the ball away from Nash.
Phoenix's James Jones then failed to score after taking a lob pass
near the Lakers' basket as the fourth period ended.

Nash wouldn't say he got fouled on either big play he was
involved in.

"In those situations, those are tough calls to make," he said.
"The first one, I slipped. The second was pretty physical. Boris
(Diaw) was calling time out. I don't know. It was a jump ball.

"There were some costly plays down the stretch that didn't go
our way. We did everything we could to win the game. It wasn't
meant to be."

Nash also said his back stiffened up after he returned to the
game early in the fourth quarter, but quickly added: "We still had
our chances to win."

He shot 2-of-11 after halftime.

Regarding Bryant, Nash said: "It was amazing. He had two
opportunities and made two great shots."

Phoenix's Tim Thomas expressed anger and frustration concerning
the big plays involving Nash.

"We have Nash, the NBA's MVP last year, and he can't get a
call," Thomas said, alluding to the play when Parker stole the
ball.

"Boris and Steve called timeout, but we did not get the call,"
Thomas said of the play leading to the jump ball. "It was the most
difficult loss, by far, of my career."

Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 25 points, eight rebounds and
five assists. Bryant had 24 points and eight assists, Kwame Brown
added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Devean George scored 11 points
-- all but two in the fourth quarter.

Nash led the Suns with 22 points and 11 assists, but scored only
six points after halftime. Diaw had 21 points, eight rebounds and
seven assists, Shawn Marion had 20 points and 12 rebounds before
fouling out with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter, and Thomas scored
12 points.

"I thought we had it won twice," Marion said.

The Suns took what appeared to be a safe 90-85 lead on Diaw's
foul shot with 12.6 seconds remaining, but Parker made a 3-pointer
with 7.9 seconds left to draw the Lakers within two. He was 1-of-10
from the field before that.

Phoenix then called a timeout, and Parker made his big steal
from Nash shortly after the Suns inbounded the ball in their
frontcourt. George got the ball to Bryant for the tying
basket.

"We made big shots, but they made bigger shots," Suns coach
Mike D'Antoni said.

Bryant played only 9½ minutes in the first half because of foul
trouble, but the Suns failed to take advantage. The game was tied
41-all at halftime.

Game notes
The Lakers have won 12 of their last 13 home games and 14
of their last 18 overall. ... The Lakers outrebounded the Suns
42-41 after outrebounding them 53-34 in Game 3, which they won
99-92. ... No team coached by Jackson has ever lost a series when
leading 2-1, going 22-0 in such situations. ... Marion got his
first double-double of the series. He was third in the NBA with 60
during the regular season ... Lakers C Chris Mihm was on the
inactive list because of his sprained right ankle. He missed 17 of
the final 18 games of the regular season and hasn't played in this
series.