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NBA PLAYOFFS / SAN ANTONIO 96, LAKERS 94

Lakers Out on a Rim

Horry's three-point try just misses, as Spurs hang on for a 3-2 advantage

May 14, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers played themselves to the edge of their championship run on Tuesday night, to a place they've been before, and so they know the looks of it, and the growing gloom of it.

For at least one game, and perhaps two, the Lakers will play for nothing less than to maintain what they've done for nearly four years, to extend their three championships, teetering on elimination in the Western Conference semifinals, now by the breadth of Robert Horry's three-point miss near the final horn.

Despite a near collapse in the fourth quarter, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Lakers, 96-94, at SBC Center and lead the best-of-seven series, three games to two. Game 6 is Thursday night in Los Angeles, where the Lakers won two games over the weekend, the second without Coach Phil Jackson.

Game 7, if necessary, will be Saturday at SBC Center, where the Lakers are winless in five games.

Jackson, after Saturday's angioplasty, returned to the bench for Game 5. He saw his Lakers get run over by the aggressive, glad-to-be-home Spurs for three quarters, fall behind by 25 points, then press their advantage of Kobe Bryant in the final quarter.

Over the final 14:37, the Lakers outscored the Spurs, 41-18. The final play, run over most of the last 14.7 seconds, ended with the ball in Horry's hands and an arena's fans screaming in horror. Horry, whose cold-hearted, game-ending three-pointers had changed a handful of series in the previous championships, let fly from the left wing, for the win.

"To be honest with you," Horry said, "it was so disappointing it made me want to shed a tear.

"You get a reputation for playing in the playoffs, it's not happening for you, it's very disappointing."

The veteran Horry, who could fill a full hand with championship rings, paused, reran the shot, and said, "I did everything right."

The final attempt followed passes from Brian Shaw out of bounds to Shaquille O'Neal at the top to Bryant on the left wing. Bryant, whose 36 points included 24 in the second half, dribbled to the left, was cornered, and shoved a pass to Horry. Horry familiarly planted his right foot, lifted his chin, raised the ball over his head, and shot, as Tony Parker rushed at him.

The result rattled twice over the rim, fell out, and David Robinson grabbed the rebound. Horry is 0 for 15 from behind the three-point arc in the series, two for 35 in the postseason, and a half-hour later shook his head again. The run -- Bryant scored 13 points and seldom-used Slava Medvedenko scored seven in the fourth quarter, when all of the Spurs scored 16 -- was done.

"It's how the whole playoffs have been going for me," Horry said sadly.

While there was a mixed sense of ruing their play for 34 minutes and then playing robustly enough to fall just short, there was no doubting where the loss left them.

"Just win," Bryant said. "Win at all costs. That's it."

In four years under Jackson, the Lakers have played four playoff games in which they could have been eliminated, and won all four of them. One of them was on the road, in Game 7 of last year's Western Conference finals in Sacramento. In the same situation last year, the Lakers beat the Kings in Game 6 and again, in overtime, in Game 7.

They have reached the same crossroads, in part, it seems, because O'Neal was unable to play his usual game. He has worn a sleeve on his left knee sporadically in the playoffs. It is the same knee with tendinitis that caused him to miss three mid-season games, and the Lakers have rarely had more than a day between games since the onset of the postseason.

"It was probably bothering him some tonight," Bryant said.

O'Neal had 20 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday, but Jackson all but laid the 25-point, third-quarter deficit at O'Neal's feet. Devean George, whose play has steadily slipped since returning from a sprained ankle in Game 3, had two points and one rebound in 25 minutes. Horry missed all six three-pointers. Derek Fisher played only 32 minutes, partly because he suffered a sprained ankle and a dislocated pinkie in the second quarter.

And, while Jackson's decision to sit O'Neal for half of the fourth quarter in a situation that required transition baskets and aggressive defense was not unusual, his assessment of O'Neal's game was pointed.

"We couldn't have gotten back into the game if Shaquille was on the floor," Jackson said. "We needed active defense. We needed aggressive play out there. Shaquille was not active tonight. He didn't move well defensively. He didn't get back on defense, it hurt us a little bit. We needed to have a defensive team out there that could do something out there.

"He played in moments. But it didn't look like consistently he could give effort out there."

O'Neal declined to offer an explanation, and seemed miffed by Jackson's observations.

"I did all right," he said. "But I can do better."

Jackson, three days removed from his procedure, said he "felt great."

Dr. John Moe was nearby. In fact, the Laker internist sat courtside, in a chair directly across the floor from Jackson, beside Jeanie Buss. A second ambulance was parked in the garage of the arena, specifically for Jackson.

He was subdued, his style anyway. When he glared at officials, without a word, more than once they felt obliged to answer, and he'd look away, disgusted.

At the end, he stood with everyone else, flattened his coat, and turned to his left.

"We've seen so many of those shots go down," he said of Horry's try. "We were waiting for it to happen this game. I thought the shot went down, and then it came back out. It ruined a great comeback."

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