Lakers 74, Spurs 73
-- First came the shot, Tim Duncan's off-balance 20-foot jumper over Shaquille O'Neal with four-tenths of a second left to give the San Antonio Spurs a seemingly iron-clad, one-point lead.
Then came the shot, Los Angeles guard Derek Fisher's catch-and-shoot 18-foot buzzer-beater off an inbounds pass from Gary Payton from the left wing that left the Lakers 74-73 victors in the pivotal fifth game of the Western Conference semifinal at SBC Center.
"One lucky shot deserves another," O'Neal said.
The miraculous bucket, which was reviewed on video by all three game officials and declared good, gave Los Angeles its first victory on San Antonio's home court this postseason and sent the Lakers home for Game 6 Saturday with a foot-on-the-throat 3-2 advantage. In NBA playoff history, teams that have won the fifth game of a best-of-seven series have won the series 83 percent of the time.
"For all the kids that were possibly watching the game, you dream about that growing up, being in that position and being able to make the shot," Fisher said. "This complete game was so indicative of how our entire season has gone."
Glorious. Hectic. Dramatic. That has been the Lakers' season and it was how this game, one in which the lead changed hands three times in the final 12 seconds, played out. Pulses may still be racing.
"Playing a game like that ages you quick," Lakers forward Karl Malone said.
After making the shot, Fisher, who finished with eight points, raced downcourt and into the tunnel toward the locker rooms as the stunned crowd fell silent. He watched replays on a television monitor with paramedics while his teammates stood near the scorer's table and nervously waited for the officials' review -- a mandatory measure that occurs on made shots at the end of every quarter. Then, before the public address announcer delivered the bad news to the soon-to-turn-irate crowd, the Lakers began a celebration that captured the elation of winning their third consecutive game over the Spurs.
"It's unfortunate, incredible," Duncan said. "There is not much else I can say about it."
After the game the Spurs filed a protest, claiming the time operator may have been slow to start the clock, since Fisher had time to catch, aim and shoot. However, on-court game officials started the clock with a device on their hip and the league has assessed that four-tenths of a second is enough time to catch the ball and release it, just as Fisher did over Manu Ginobili, who defended it almost perfectly, overplaying the left-handed Fisher to his strong side.
"It was really hard for me when Fisher's shot went in because I was the guy guarding him," Ginobili said. "It was a tough loss."
Fisher said he was probably the last option on the inbounds play, with Kobe Bryant (22 points), O'Neal (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Malone (seven points) the main choices. Payton said when Fisher, who said he normally races to the left corner on that play, broke free just to the left of the foul line, he threw him the pass, in stride, and watched.
"I looked at Shaq early, maybe for a lob, but me and Fisher made eye contact," Payton (five points, seven assists) said. "He had just enough time to turn and shoot. If he had been right-handed that might have been impossible for him but since he's left-handed, as soon as he caught it, he was able to put it up and through."
The amazing ending came as San Antonio rallied from a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to take a three-point lead with just under two minutes left. Los Angeles retook the lead with 11.5 seconds remaining when Bryant drained a jumper left of the free throw line. After a timeout, the Spurs got the ball to Duncan (21 points, 21 rebounds, 4 blocked shots), who spearheaded the late rally. Smothered, Duncan put the ball on the floor, pulled up from beyond the foul line while falling to his left and made the shot for a 73-72 lead.
"I couldn't believe it went in," Duncan said of his basket. "They played the dribble hand off great and I just had to take a shot. Just let it go as high as I could knowing that Shaq was there. I just tried to give myself a chance and it went in."
"We were all so happy when Tim made his shot and then we felt the worst feeling in the world," Ginobili said.
Added Malone: "You should have seen Tim's face when his went in. He didn't even believe it. But I've been around long enough to know that it's not over until it's over."