SAN ANTONIO — Ticktock, ticktock. The Lakers are huffing and puffing, sweat pouring off their furrowed brows as the final minutes pass Sunday at the Alamodome. They're working hard but drawing no closer to the San Antonio Spurs.
There are 6 minutes 15 seconds to play when Tim Duncan makes two free throws to give the Spurs an 84-74 lead.
Finally, the Spurs are exorcising the demons of fourth quarters past. There will be no meltdown Sunday. They will win Game 4, evening their Western Conference semifinal playoff series at two games apiece. A pivotal Game 5 will be Tuesday at Staples Center.
"It was a situation where we controlled the game," San Antonio's Danny Ferry would later say.
Waves of noise from the frenzied crowd of 32,342 wash over the Lakers and Spurs. Time passes slowly but certainly--but certainly not as swiftly as the home team and its fans would like.
There is 4:55 remaining when Kobe Bryant swishes two free throws.
There is 4:26 left when Shaquille O'Neal makes one of two at the line.
There is 4:03 to go when Rick Fox makes two free throws.
San Antonio 84, Lakers 79.
All the while, the shots aren't falling for the Spurs. On their next possessions after Duncan's free throws give them a 10-point lead with 6:15 to play, the Spurs miss five shots and commit one turnover.
There is 2:53 remaining when Bryant makes a three-point basket off a pass from O'Neal from the post. Robert Horry's offensive rebound enables the Lakers to keep possession and for Bryant to make his long-range jumper.
San Antonio 84, Lakers 82
"We had a great opportunity," David Robinson would say. "We're up by 10 points with five minutes to go and we just can't get the ball in the basket. They made some great plays, but our offense got stagnant. We didn't get the ball inside. We have to figure out how to keep that motion going and knock down some shots in the last five minutes."
There is 2:31 left when Duncan makes one of two free throws after O'Neal picks up his fifth foul.
There is 2:10 to go when Bryant makes another three-pointer off a pass from O'Neal in the post.
San Antonio 85, Lakers 85.
It's the first time the Lakers have been even with the Spurs since it was 33-33 with 6:39 remaining in the second quarter.
"For a while there, I thought it was going really well," Robinson would say. "All of a sudden, the well just dried up."
Robinson misses a 13-foot jumper with 1:42 still to be played, but the Lakers turn the ball over at the other end, Duncan swiping it with 1:33 left. San Antonio's Bruce Bowen misses a hurried 14-footer with 1:08 remaining, but Bryant can't convert on a layup with 51.4 to play.
It's still San Antonio 85, Lakers 85.
After a Laker timeout with 46.2 seconds to go, O'Neal rebounds Horry's missed three-pointer with 29.9 remaining. Bryant leaps toward the rafters to take Derek Fisher's missed shot from Spur guard Tony Parker. Bryant rises again before Robinson can thwart him, dropping in a layup. Lakers 87, San Antonio 85.
There are 5.1 seconds to play.
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich asks for a timeout, then sends Daniels and Steve Smith into the game for Parker and Bowen. The Lakers grab Duncan with 3.2 to go, their final foul before the Spurs shoot free throws.
Popovich wants time again, then brings Terry Porter into the game for Robinson. Porter has been on the bench since leaving the game with 7:36 to play in the second quarter.
Ferry would later say he intended to inbound the ball to Duncan, but Duncan stumbled over Fox as he tried to move into the clear. Ferry passes it to Porter at the top of the key instead.
Against Fisher's suffocating defense, Porter stumbles and the ball trickles over to Duncan, whose 21-foot jumper from the right wing is well short at the buzzer.
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