Lakers Are on Verge Of Dethroning Spurs

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SAN ANTONIO, May 27 -- Derek Fisher may never get to vacation along the River Walk. Four years after the Los Angeles Lakers point guard nailed a leaning jump shot with 0.4 of a second left to propel the Lakers to a Game 5 victory in the conference semifinals, he returned to the place where he is most infamous and again was in the middle of a play that could lead to the end of the San Antonio Spurs' bid to repeat as NBA champions.

With 2.1 seconds remaining, Brent Barry had a chance to hit a game-winning three-pointer, but Fisher chased him down above the arc. Barry pump-faked, Fisher left his feet and collided with Barry's left shoulder on his landing, forcing Barry to take a difficult, off-balance shot that missed about 18 inches to the right of the rim. The Lakers escaped the AT&T Center with a 93-91 victory on Tuesday night and took a commanding 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series. They can close out the Spurs at home on Thursday in Game 5.

"I was nervous," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said after scoring a team-high 28 points. "Just kind of watched the flight of the ball. Once it hit the side of the backboard, I was extremely relieved."

Barry walked away, lifted his arms and pleaded for a foul. Fisher high-fived Lamar Odom and calmly walked toward the locker room. The remaining fans stood for several minutes afterward, their emotions shifting from shock to anger. They finally booed as the whistle never blew and the Spurs lost for the first time in 14 home postseason games.

Barry and the fans were stunned, but Coach Gregg Popovich had no quarrel with the final result. "No, it wasn't a foul," Popovich said. "I think it was a proper no-call from what I saw."

The Lakers had to be confused about how the game actually came down to one final shot. They led 93-86 when Lamar Odom (16 points) hit two free throws with 56.5 seconds remaining, but the Spurs charged back in a frantic finale. Pau Gasol missed two free throws, and Manu Ginóbili, who had basically been held silent for most of the night, hit a three-pointer to bring the Spurs within four with 42 seconds remaining.

Then Duncan rebounded a Bryant miss and tossed an outlet pass to Tony Parker, who brought the Spurs within two as he raced down the floor for a layup that Odom goaltended.

After Fisher and Bryant missed jumpers, the Spurs secured the rebound and immediately called timeout to set up the final play for Ginóbili. But Ginóbili couldn't get open in the corner and Robert Horry found Barry, whose sharpshooting off the bench kept the Spurs in a game that they never led.

The Lakers were prepared for a Spur to come off the bench, hit a few three-pointers, attack the basket and change the complexion of the game. They just expected it to be Ginóbili -- not Barry, who did his best Ginóbili impersonation, scoring 23 points and hitting five three-pointers.

Fisher wanted to make sure he didn't hit a sixth. "As he loaded up, I lunged toward him. Before I initially made contact with him, I stopped and put my arms down," Fisher said. "We met simultaneously. There was contact, for sure, but I don't think I ran through him. Had I run through him, I think the referee would have" made a call.

After the game, Barry said he didn't expect the hear a whistle in that situation.

"That is not going to get called," Barry said. "We were forced into a difficult shot at the end that I had but really we weren't expecting to get that."

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 29 points and 17 rebounds and Tony Parker had 23 points and nine assists. Despite Barry's contributions, it wasn't the same as having an effective Ginóbili, who has become the Spurs' offensive sparkplug and gauge for success. Ginóbili, who appeared to break out of his slump while scoring 30 points in Game 3, again lost his shooting touch, Ginóbili (seven points) missed his first five shots and looked unusually passive until he was left open to drill an 18-footer with a little more than six minutes left to bring the Spurs within 81-79.

Odom took over from there with a dunk and a three-point play that he converted after getting fouled on a finger roll. Ginóbili then fumbled a handoff from Fabricio Oberto, Bryant picked it up and raced down the court for an emphatic jam that gave the Lakers an 88-79 lead.

"This is our first defeat here and we had a hill to climb being down 0-2 and now have Everest to climb being down 3-1," Barry said.

The Lakers haven't lost three games in a row since January, but Bryant said he believes the Spurs have a chance to make this a series again. "Yeah. They're the champs," he said. "Absolutely."

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