PLAYOFFS, LAL Wins series 4-2
57-25, 24-17 Away
56-26, 34-7 Home

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.