- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

SAN ANTONIO — The final second featured two unbelievable shots. Tim Duncan’s might have been better, but Derek Fisher’s came last.

Fisher sw-ished the game-winning 18-foot jumper off an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds left, giving the Los Angeles Lakers a stunning 74-73 victory over the San Antonio Spurs last night for a 3-2 lead in their second-round series.

“One lucky shot deserves another,” Shaquille O’Neal said.

The Lakers head home for Game 6 tomorrow night having won three straight. San Antonio, which had a 17-game winning streak ended in Game 3, had its 17-game home winning streak snapped by this loss.

The Spurs are now on the brink of elimination, something they didn’t face during championship runs last year and in 1999.

They thought they had won it on Duncan’s shot, an off-balance 20-footer while falling to his left. Duncan didn’t even see the shot go in, and the Spurs started celebrating.

But after three timeouts to set up the final play, Fisher took the inbounds pass from Gary Payton, sank the shot and ran to the locker room in joy.

Officials stared at a courtside monitor to determine whether Fisher released the ball in time. As soon as they said it was good, Kobe Bryant pumped his fist and a Spurs assistant slammed his clipboard on the scorer’s table.

Stunned fans came out of their silence with boos, especially when a replay showed how close it was.

“Most times the play’s not for me,” Fisher said. “This is special. We almost gave this game away. I think tonight’s game is indicative of how our season has gone.”

The Lakers were up by 16 with 3:59 left in the third quarter. Then they went cold, and the Spurs finally began doing some things right.

A 26-7 run put San Antonio up by three with 2:14 left. The first go-ahead basket was another tough shot by Duncan as he banked the ball in from the top of the key, double-clutching as O’Neal nearly swatted his first try.

Baskets by O’Neal and Bryant put the Lakers back up 72-71 with 11.9 seconds left, setting up Duncan’s near winner.

Duncan shot it from about the same place as his previous one, only this time he was moving sharply to his left as he released the ball and then fell to the court. From all fours, he looked up at the Spurs bench and asked, “Did it go in?” although he had to know it did judging by the loud cheers.

He ran to the sideline and was mobbed by teammates in a football-style pileup. But the Lakers still had their final chance.

Two defenders followed Bryant as he ran toward Payton for the inbounds pass, and Fisher popped free from the foul line by taking two steps toward Payton. He caught the ball, turned to his left and quickly released it for the game-winner.

“Everybody was looking for me and Kobe,” O’Neal said. “Derek Fisher just ran to the ball and got it.”

The result was the opposite of last year’s Game 5, when Los Angeles missed a buzzer-beater that would have given the Lakers a 3-2 series lead. In that game, the Spurs hung on despite blowing a huge lead. The same could be said of Los Angeles this time.

The close finish was fitting considering how pivotal this game was for two teams that have combined to win the last five NBA titles. The winner of Game 5 is a dominant favorite historically in seven-game series, having gone on to win 96 of the previous 115 series that were tied at 2-2. The 2002 Lakers were the last to buck that trend against Sacramento.

The added drama here is that if Los Angeles goes out, there’s no telling how many changes may be made this offseason. Wins are the best way to keep everyone in purple and gold happy, and wins like this could keep the Lakers playing into June.

Bryant, coming off an amazing 42-point, no-turnover performance in Game 4, was fabulous for three quarters. He finished with 22 points, five assists and five turnovers.

Devean George was his top sidekick with 16 points, many off Bryant’s passes, but he didn’t score in the fourth quarter. O’Neal had 11 points and 11 rebounds and played great defense on Duncan.

Duncan made only seven field goals, but they came in bunches. There were three in the first quarter and the two eye-popping shots late in the fourth. He finished with 21 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks but also made seven turnovers.

Tony Parker, who has cooled off since sparkling in the first two games, had nine of his 15 points during the fourth-quarter rally. Devin Brown added 11 points.

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