Lakers Gameday | 05/29/08 | Lakers 100, Spurs 92 (Lakers Win Series 4-1)
Bryant Leads Lakers past Spurs, into NBA Finals
LOS ANGELES, May 29 (AP) - Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the defending champions, and now they're headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in four years.
Bryant scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers rallied from an early 17-point deficit to beat the San Antonio Spurs 100-92 on Thursday night and win the Western Conference finals in five games.
The Lakers are 12-3 in the playoffs, including 8-0 at Staples Center, where they haven't lost in two months. They've won 14 straight home games and 21 of their last 24 postseason games at home.
They get a week off before opening the NBA Finals next Thursday night at Boston or Detroit. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night in Detroit.
A basket by Lamar Odom gave the Lakers an 83-76 lead with 5:40 remaining, but a 3-pointer by Brent Barry and a basket by Tony Parker drew the Spurs within two points. Manu Ginobili missed a 3-pointer that could have given San Antonio the lead before Bryant's jumper with 3:33 to play made it 85-81.
A foul shot by Tim Duncan drew the Spurs within three, but two more baskets by Bryant made it 89-82 with 1:47 to play, and the Spurs weren't closer than five points after that.
Odom added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 12 points, a career playoff-high 19 rebounds and five assists for the Lakers.
Parker scored 23 points and Duncan had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for the Spurs. Michael Finley scored 13 points, Barry and Kurt Thomas added 11 each and Ginobili was held to nine, shooting just 3-for-9.
Former Lakers star and executive Jerry West presented the Lakers the Western Conference championship trophy on the court following the game. By that time, the players were all wearing T-shirts and caps denoting their championship status.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has won nine championships, tied for the NBA record with former Boston coach Red Auerbach.
"I like not to get involved personally in this and think of this as a team effort,'' he said regarding what playing in the NBA finals means to him. "As much as I appreciate the league trying to emphasize the Western Conference trophy, that doesn't mean too much when that big prize is still out there.
"We look at both those opponents (Boston and Detroit) with a great deal of respect and know that we have a great, great hill to climb to be able to finish in the finals and win.''
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pointed to his team's offense - and the Lakers' defense - as the keys to the series.
"I thought we did a fine job,'' he said. "We just didn't muster the offense, for a variety of reasons. The fact that we didn't come through offensively is a disappointment, but part of that is a credit to the Lakers.
"(The Spurs) just played a team that was better. That's why the Lakers won. The better team won. You get a seven-game series, you win four games, you're the best team.''
The Lakers clinched their berth in the Finals a year to the day after Bryant called the team's front office "a mess'' during a radio interview. A day later, he demanded a trade, ultimately saying he preferred playing on Pluto rather than returning to the team he joined as an 18-year-old in 1996.
The situation calmed down until Lakers owner Jerry Buss told reporters during training camp in October he was listening to offers for Bryant, angering the superstar once again.
But once the season began, Bryant bonded with his teammates, led the Lakers to the No. 1 seed in the rugged West and won his first MVP award.
The Lakers will be playing in the Finals for the 23rd time since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1961 and the 29th time overall. They have won 14 championships - nine in Los Angeles and five in Minneapolis.
The Lakers and the Celtics have met 10 times in the finals, with Boston winning the first eight matchups and Los Angeles the last two - in 1985 and 1987. That's the last time the Celtics advanced to the championship round.
The Lakers and Pistons have met three times in the Finals, most recently in 2004, when Detroit won in five games. Shaquille O'Neal, who teamed with Bryant to lead the Lakers to three straight championships starting in 2000, was traded a month later, and the Lakers hadn't won a postseason series since until last month.
San Antonio's elimination might signal the end of its era of dominance. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs won championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, but with a rotation made up solely of 30-something players except for the 26-year-old Parker, the future seems uncertain.
Meanwhile, starting guard Derek Fisher and seldom-used reserve Ira Newble are the only players on the Los Angeles roster over 30.
Ultimately, it was the Lakers' youth, quickness and athleticism that determined this series. The turning point occurred in Game 1, when the Spurs took a 20-point third-quarter lead before the Lakers outscored them 44-20 for an 89-85 victory.
San Antonio had a shot in Game 4, but the Lakers held on for a 93-91 victory that put the Spurs on the brink of elimination. And that came Thursday night.
A 3-pointer by Luke Walton and baskets by Jordan Farmar and Bryant gave the Lakers a 74-68 lead with 8 1/2 minutes remaining, and they were on top the rest of the way.
The Spurs led by as many as 10 points early in the third quarter, but the Lakers turned up their defensive intensity during a 19-8 run that gave them a 61-60 lead - their first since the opening minute. Bryant scored nine points during the spurt. Los Angeles led 64-63 entering the final period.
The Spurs got 3-pointers from Finley, Ginobili and Barry during a 15-1 run that gave them a 33-16 lead early in the second quarter. The Lakers went nearly 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal until Farmar scored three straight baskets to trim San Antonio's lead to 11.
It was 46-31 before the Lakers went on an 11-2 run to finish the second quarter, cutting the Spurs' lead to 48-42.
The Lakers wound up shooting 38-for-85 (44.7 percent) while the Spurs went 36-for-74 (48.6 percent).
Notes: Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Spurs are now 0-7 in such situations. ... Phoenix was the last NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, accomplishing the feat against the Lakers two years ago in the first round. ... Bryant attempted only 11 free throws in this series after attempting 96 against Utah. ... Ginobili, who turns 31 in July, and Duncan, who turned 32 last month, can hardly be classified as old in NBA circles. But Robert Horry is almost 38, Bruce Bowen is nearly 37, Barry is 36 and Finley and Thomas are both 35.Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited
The youthful Los Angeles Lakers maintain they're not close to being a finished product.
And yet, they're one win away from earning their first NBA finals berth in four years, with as many as three shots at it if necessary.
In the process, they just might put an end to the San Antonio Spurs' era of dominance.
The Lakers lead the Spurs 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals, and can put them away Thursday night at Staples Center, where they own a 7-0 record in the postseason and haven't lost since March 28.
And to think, just last May, after the Lakers failed to win a playoff series for the third straight year, Kobe Bryant was demanding a trade.
"We're just learning as we go," Bryant said Wednesday at the team's practice facility in suburban El Segundo. "We've seen some dark days around here."
Starting guard Derek Fisher and seldom-used reserve Ira Newble are the only players on the roster over 30, and Bryant and Fisher are the only ones with championship rings, earning them with the Lakers from 2000-02.
"We're a tough bunch," Bryant said. "I think we've grown into a tough team mentally. I think we've grown up. Quick learners -- we're all just intelligent idiots."
Should the Spurs win Game 5, the teams would meet Saturday night in San Antonio. A seventh game, if needed, would be played Monday night at Staples Center.
"Down 3-1, we know it's really hard to come back," San Antonio's Manu Ginobili said. "But we're going to try. Of course, we still believe in ourselves. We're going to have a shot. As always the next game is THE game."
The Spurs, who have won three championships in the last five years and four in the last nine, have all the experience a team could ask for, with Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker leading the way.
"They're the defending champions, and we're going to have to play another good 48-minute basketball game in order to beat them," Fisher said.
"We've been through tough games already in this series, and this game is going to be the toughest," Lakers center Pau Gasol said.
The Lakers put the Spurs in a must-win situation Tuesday night by winning 93-91 for San Antonio's first homecourt loss in the postseason after seven wins.
San Antonio appeared a step slow at times, with the Lakers' 26-4 advantage in second-chance points a key to the game.
"We did a pretty decent job of stopping them, and every time we did get a stop, they got another chance at it," Duncan said. "Even if it wasn't a score right away, they got an opportunity to pull it back out and run it again. And that takes a lot out of you."
Parker is the only member of the San Antonio rotation who's under 30, so perhaps fatigue was a factor. But coach Gregg Popovich bristled last week when the Spurs' age was brought up after they blew a 20-point lead in Game 1, saying: "When we win, we're the experienced team. When we lose, we're older than dirt. That's just silly."
Popovich said before Wednesday afternoon's flight to Los Angeles that the Spurs needed to let go of the Game 4 loss.
"If you don't let it go, you can't focus on the game (Thursday night), the task at hand," he said. "So by the time we land in LA, it will be gone and we'll be concentrating on just talking about what we can do to win basketball games.
"I've always said that you have to have some good fortune. And good fortune means a bad shot might go in, maybe you get a good call, maybe you get a good whistle."
The Spurs didn't get a good whistle in the late going Tuesday night, after Fisher made contact with San Antonio's Brent Barry before Barry unloaded a desperation 3-pointer that didn't come close.
To a man, the Spurs said they didn't expect a foul to be called in that situation. But the NBA disagreed with them Wednesday after reviewing the play.
"With the benefit of instant replay, it appears a foul should have been called," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
Of course, the Lakers didn't get a good whistle seconds earlier, when a jumper by Fisher appeared to tick the rim, and Los Angeles ultimately lost possession with 2.1 seconds left because of a shot-clock violation.
The Spurs probably need a big effort from Ginobili to extend the series. The NBA's sixth man of the year shot 9-for-15 and scored 30 points in San Antonio's 103-84 victory in Game 3, but went a combined 7-for-29 for a total of 24 points in the other three games -- all losses.
"Couple of shots didn't fall in," Ginobili said. "Of course, I always give (the Lakers) credit -- they played good defense."
Bryant smiled when asked about not attempting a single free throw in Game 4.
"I don't know about that," he said. "That's one of the mysteries of the world."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson praised San Antonio's Bruce Bowen for his defensive effort on Bryant when asked about his star's lack of foul shots.
But the coach couldn't resist taking a jab.
"The basis is guys getting their hands on players, and thats what referees judge," Jackson said. "Two hands particularly, it's a call, and Bowen is faster than the eye in that regard. He's really quick with his hands, so he gets in and bothers but he can back out before the shots are up usually, and so you have to give him credit. He's obviously an illusionist at some level."Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited
(Stephen Dunn/NBAE/Getty Images)
NOTES & CONNECTIONS
The Lakers split their season series with the Spurs 2-2 after winning last season’s series 2-1 for the first time since 2003-04 (3-1). The Lakers are 5-5 against the Spurs in their last 10 games and have won their last two straight at STAPLES Center. Overall at STAPLES Center, the Lakers are 8-10 all-time against the Spurs. In San Antonio, the Lakers have gone 4-6 in their last 10 against the Spurs but have split their last four games at AT&T Center (2-2). Under head coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers are 14-17 against San Antonio in the regular season. In the postseason, Jackson is 14-7 against the Spurs, advancing to the next round in three of four series meetings. In 42 career games including 37 starts against San Antonio, Bryant is averaging 24.8 points per game. In three games against the Spurs last season, Bryant averaged 33.0 points while in four games this season against San Antonio, Bryant averaged 24.3 points. Spurs forward and former Laker Robert Horry (1996- 2003) ranks among franchise leaders in 3-pt. FG made (10th/274) and blocked shots (9th/446). In addition, Horry was a teammate of Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher for all three Lakers championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Spurs guard/forward Ime Udoka played in four games for the Lakers during the 2003-04 season, posting eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 28 total minutes.
CLOSING IT OUT
Overall, under head coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers are now 18-10 in close-out games. The Lakers have won 23 of their last 24 series when holding the opportunity to close-out at any point. Their last series loss when having a close-out game came in 2006 when the Lakers squandered a 3-1 series lead against the Phoenix Suns. Prior to that, the Lakers had not lost a series when having a close-out game since the 1993 First Round vs. Phoenix in which they led 2-0 before losing the next three.
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