L.A. awaits Wolves-Kings winner

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- With four future Hall of Famers, the Los

Angeles Lakers have some kind of imposing offense.

That wasn't what it took to beat the San Antonio Spurs.

It took some kind of defense.

Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter,

Shaquille O'Neal had 17 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots

and the Lakers beat the Spurs 88-76 Saturday night to win the

Western Conference semifinals in six games.

It was the completion of an improbable comeback and sent the

defending NBA champions home for the summer. Exactly a year

earlier, it was the Spurs celebrating a conference semifinal

triumph on the same court to end the Lakers' quest for a fourth

straight title.

"It was a big series for us, playing the defending champs,"

Bryant said. "Last year they knocked us out and we had an

opportunity to return the favor."

The Spurs shot 30.2 percent, including 21.3 percent in the

second half when the Lakers outscored them 49-37.

"We came out and played a second half where our defense hung

together again and made them struggle for shots," Lakers coach

Phil Jackson said.

"That was really our demise in the series," Spurs coach Gregg

Popovich said of his team's offense. "I thought that defensively,

they were wonderful."

Tony Parker, so outstanding in the first two games, shot 4-of-18

in scoring nine points and had only three assists in the finale.

"We knew Tony was cutting us up," Jackson said. "We just

threw the wall at him, basically, threw bodies at him."

The Lakers will face the winner of the Minnesota-Sacramento

series in the conference finals. The Timberwolves lead 3-2 entering

Game 6 Sunday in Sacramento.

The Lakers became the eighth team in NBA history to win a

best-of-seven series after losing the first two games. The last

team to accomplish such a feat was Houston, which did it in both

the 1994 and 1995 conference semifinals against Phoenix en route to


After a pair of 10-point victories over Los Angeles to begin the

series, the Spurs had a 17-game winning streak and the Lakers

appeared to be in big trouble.

Little did anyone know the Spurs wouldn't win again this season.

"We knew that if we did what we're supposed to do, that we'd be

fine," O'Neal said. "When we play hard and play with kind a lot

of passion and when you believe like that, anything can happen."

Gary Payton, who along with Karl Malone joined the Lakers this

season in search of his first championship ring, had 15 points and

seven assists.

Bryant also had seven assists to go with seven rebounds for the

Lakers, who shot 44.6 percent and won despite being outrebounded


Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but

shot just 7-of-18. Manu Ginobili added 16 points, Devin Brown had

15 and Robert Horry scored 12.

"They adjusted their game plan and it worked for them," Duncan

said. "We didn't shoot the ball as well as we could have."

About the Lakers' defense, Duncan said: "It's tough because

Shaq's back there, that's a big part of it. You can get by them at

points. Having Shaq back there as a safety really causes some

problems. It was a very good defensive scheme, more than


Brown scored six straight points to give the Spurs a 58-57 lead

early in the fourth quarter. But two free throws by Bryant, a

3-pointer by Derek Fisher and a foul shot by Malone put the Lakers

on top by five, and they were ahead the rest of the way.

It was 74-68 with 3:39 remaining when the Spurs intentionally

fouled O'Neal. He foiled the strategy by making two free throws.

O'Neal would make two more free throws with 2:48 left after

another intentional foul to give the Lakers a 79-70 lead, and

Bryant's flying dunk with 1:52 remaining added an exclamation


The Lakers made 19 of 30 free throws in the fourth quarter to

hold off the Spurs.

Outscored 139-93 in the third quarter in the first five games of

the series, the Spurs had their problems again, shooting a

miserable 3-for-23 in the third period of this game.

But they were only outscored by four points because they got

seven offensive rebounds and made seven free throws. That left the

Lakers with a 56-52 lead entering the final period.

The game was tied 39-all at halftime.

Fisher, whose 18-foot buzzer-beating jumper gave the Lakers a

74-73 victory in Game 5, received a standing ovation when he

entered this game for the first time late in the first quarter. He

scored nine points.Game notes
Parker celebrates his 22nd birthday Monday. He has the most

assists and second-most points for a player under 22 in NBA playoff

history. Bryant ranks first in points and third in assists. ...

Malone and Duncan exchanged words and were called for a

double-technical late in the second quarter, and Payton got one

early in the third period. ... The Lakers extended their closeout

winning streak 11 games. They haven't squandered an opportunity to

eliminate a team from the playoffs since losing Game 5 of the 2000

NBA Finals to Indiana. They began their closeout streak by beating

the Pacers in Game 6. ... The Lakers are 19-1 after leading a

playoff series 3-2, losing only to Boston in the 1969 NBA Finals.