Lakers Burn Spurs, Even Series at 2-2

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L.A. Lakers 99, San Antonio 95
Lakers Burn Spurs, Even Series at 2-2

Shaquille O'Neal was 6-for-17 from the field in Game 4.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty Images

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LOS ANGELES, May 11 (Ticker) -- Missing their head coach and with their backs against the wall, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers responded with a championship effort.

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Bryant and O'Neal came up big down the stretch on offense and on defense as the Lakers eked out a 99-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to even their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.

Trailing by as many as 16 points late in the second quarter and by 10 points midway through the third, the Lakers were in serious danger of falling behind, 3-1 to the top-seeded Spurs. But behind Bryant and O'Neal, Los Angeles powered its way back into the game and outplayed San Antonio in the waning moments.

O'Neal, a poor free-throw shooter, sank a pair with 1:17 left to even the contest, 95-95. The All-Star center then stole a pass by Tim Duncan intended for Stephen Jackson in the paint with a minute remaining, and Bryant sank 1-of-2 free throws 12 seconds later to put the Lakers ahead for good.

On the Spurs' ensuing possession, Duncan dribbled the ball off his foot but dived on the floor kicked it out to Jackson on the perimeter. But Jackson missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down, giving the Lakers the ball with 24 seconds left.

"Tim slipped," Jackson said. "Their defense didn't have anything. That forced us to take a bad shot. That's it. We've worked so hard to win this game. We let it get away at the end."

Tony Parker, Malik Rose and Bruce Bowen attempted to foul Derek Fisher but none was called, allowing the Lakers to take 10 seconds off the clock before Bryant was fouled. He calmly sank two free throws to give the Lakers a 98-95 lead with 14 seconds left, forcing the Spurs to take a timeout.

Bryant then intercepted Parker's terrible inbound pass to Manu Ginobili, and he hit 1-of-2 free throws to cap the scoring with 11 seconds left.

"It was a bad decision," Parker said of his pass, which came just before the Spurs were to be whistled for a five-second violation. "Maybe I was in too great of a hurry."

"I try to conserve myself at the offensive end," Bryant said. "I never rest on the defensive end."

Bryant finished with 35 points and O'Neal had 29 and 17 rebounds for Los Angeles, which shot just 39 percent (28-of-71) but made 35-of-45 free throws while San Antonio made 20-of-26. Bryant went 14-of-17 from the stripe and O'Neal a surprising 17-of-23.

"Obviously, Kobe did a great job getting to the hole and getting some calls and making free throws," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Shaq did a great job tonight on the line and made his free throws and we didn't finish as well."

"Defensively I thought we were pretty solid," Duncan said. "(But) 45 free throws ... there is not much you can do about that when they get 20 more free throws than you."

The Lakers were missing coach Phil Jackson, who was resting after undergoing an angioplasty on Saturday to undo 90 percent blockage in an artery. Jim Cleamons, a longtime assistant under Jackson, coached the Lakers in Jackson's absence.

"I think Cleamons did a wonderful job," O'Neal said. "He told everybody to stay involved and I think we did that. He did a good job."

It is not known if Jackson will be cleared to travel to San Antonio for Game Five on Tuesday night. Jackson has won nine championships, tying the legendary Red Auerbach atop the all-time list. His playoff record of 159-58 is the best in NBA history.

"We have encountered so many different challenges this year," Bryant said. "We just look at (Jackson's absence) as another obstacle. We thrive in these types of situations."

Duncan contributed 36 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs, who led by 43-27 with just under four minutes left in the first half. But Duncan went to the bench after acquiring a third foul with 3:27 left - seven seconds after Bryant also was whistled for a third foul - and Los Angeles pulled within 46-39 at the half.

The Lakers trailed by 64-55 with 3:10 to play in the third quarter before closing the period on a 16-3 run after Duncan picked up his fourth foul. Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter.

Duncan scored 13 points during a 21-4 Spurs run bridging the first and second quarters, giving San Antonio a 38-23 lead with 6:25 left in the half.

Fisher countered with a 3-pointer with 5:30 to play in the period for the first points scored by a Laker aside from Bryant or O'Neal.

"I kept writing on Phil's pad to move the ball and pass the ball and cut and try to do things to try to break down their good pressure, and obviously my pen does not work as well as his does," Cleamons said. "But the fact remains that somewhere down the line we got some points from Fisher, which helped and took the pressure off of Kobe and Shaq and their thinking that they have to go out and do everything."

Jackson gave the Spurs their biggest lead, 43-27, with 3:54 remaining before the break, but Duncan soon picked up his third foul and the momentum of the game changed.

"Those guys really switched it up," Duncan said. "I thought they did a great job of (it). Everyone just tried to give me a different look and I think that is what they were going for."

The Lakers received nine points from Devean George and zero from fellow starting forward Robert Horry, but Fisher scored 17.

"My hat goes off to my teammates," O'Neal said. "We kept fighting. They did a wonderful job of just keep on fighting, fighting, fighting. Guys were diving on the floor, fighting for loose balls, hitting shots, playing team ball. If we keep playing like that, I think we'll be fine."

Jackson totaled 15 points, Parker 14 and the reserve Ginobili 13 for the Spurs, but starting center David Robinson was manhandled by O'Neal, fouling out with no points and three rebounds with 7:13 to play in the contest.

"I can't put into words how frustrating it is to lose this game," Jackson said.

"It's even, 2-2, and now we go back home," Parker said. "Now Game Five is a must-win."

Both teams shot well from the arc, with the Spurs sinking half of their 18 attempts and the Lakers connecting on 8-of-16.

"We had to come from behind (against Portland in the 2000 conference finals) our first championship year," said Bryant, whose team is trying to win a fourth straight title. "Our experience means a lot and it keeps us focused - we know what it takes to win. We've been there before."