LOS ANGELES The Lakers completed an improbable comeback Saturday night, sending the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs home for the summer.
Exactly a year earlier, it was the Spurs celebrating a Western Conference semifinal triumph on the same court to end the tearful Lakers' quest for a fourth straight title.
Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and Shaquille O'Neal had 17 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Lakers beat the Spurs 88-76 to win the conference semifinals in six games.
''It was a big series for us, playing the defending champs,'' Bryant said. ''Last year they knocked us out and we had an opportunity to return the favor.''
The Lakers will face the winner of the Minnesota-Sacramento series in the conference finals. The Timberwolves lead 3-2 entering Game 6 Sunday in Sacramento.
The Lakers became the eighth team in NBA history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games. The last team to accomplish such a feat was Houston, which did it in both the 1994 and 1995 conference semifinals against Phoenix en route to championships.
''We're on a mission,'' O'Neal said.
After a pair of 10-point victories over the Lakers to begin the series, the Spurs had a 17-game winning streak and the Lakers appeared to be in big trouble.
Little did anyone know the Spurs wouldn't win again this season.
Gary Payton, who along with Karl Malone joined the Lakers this season in search of his first championship ring, had 15 points and seven assists.
Bryant also had seven assists to go with seven rebounds.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but shot just 7-of-18. Manu Ginobili added 16 points, Devin Brown had 15 and Robert Horry scored 12.
Tony Parker, so outstanding in the first two games, shot 4-of-18 in scoring nine points and had only three assists.
The Spurs shot just 30.2 percent to the Lakers' 44.6 percent, making moot a 49-39 rebounding advantage.
Pacers 94, Heat 83
INDIANAPOLIS Jeff Foster delivered a career performance when the Indiana Pacers needed him most.
With Indiana reeling from two straight losses in Miami, Foster had career highs of 20 points and 16 rebounds on Saturday night to lead the Pacers to a 94-83 win over the Heat and a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
''It was fun, I haven't scored 20 points since college,'' the five-year veteran said. ''We needed a win, and we got a win, and I was just able to be a part of it offensively, which normally I'm not.''
The 6-foot-11 center spearheaded a Pacers frontline that figured to dominate the smaller Heat but had yet to do so in the series.
''He led this team,'' Indiana All-Star Jermaine O'Neal said. ''A lot of energy and a lot of big plays.''
O'Neal added 22 points and eight rebounds for the Pacers, who exploded in the third quarter to get rid of the pesky Heat.
Miami came into the game holding a 23-rebound advantage over the bigger, burlier Pacers.
Indiana finally flexed its muscle in Game 5. The Pacers outrebounded Miami 47-30. Foster had seven offensive rebounds, as many as the entire Heat team.
''Jeff Foster stepped in with the most important and best game of his career,'' Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. ''He played a great game.''
Indiana also outscored the Heat 42-26 in the paint and 20-4 in second-chance points.
Game 6 is Tuesday in Miami, where the Heat have won 18 straight games, including two convincing victories over the Pacers that evened the series.
As has been the case all postseason, the Heat looked like a completely different team on the road.
''It's kind of mind boggling to try to figure out what the difference was in the way we played,'' Heat forward Caron Butler said.
After shooting 51.4 percent in Game 4 and playing with boundless energy in both games in Miami, the Heat were overwhelmed in their sixth straight road loss in the playoffs.
''We weren't great offensively by any means, but the problem today was defense,'' Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. ''We were pathetic defensively today and I have to take responsibility for that.''
Lamar Odom had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Miami, but was far from the force he was at home. Foster harassed him all night, forcing him to miss seven of his first eight shots and rendering him a non-factor for most of the night.
Dwyane Wade, who tormented the Pacers with dribble penetration for most of the series, finished with 16 points and 10 assists. This time, however, the Pacers clamped down on the slick rookie and made it much more difficult for him to get into the paint.
''That was just what we've been trying to do the whole series keep them from opening things up,'' Foster said.
Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest had a lot to do with that, too.
The Pacers took a five-point lead into halftime, then put the game away with a spectacular third quarter on both ends of the floor.
Carlisle switched Artest on to Wade and it made all the difference.
Visibly frustrated, Wade scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the third.
O'Neal had nine points and five rebounds and Foster chipped in eight points and three boards in the period. The Pacers shot 80 percent and held Miami to 31.6 percent shooting to take a 73-54 lead into the final period.
O'Neal and Foster fueled a 20-6 run to start the period and played with enthusiasm rarely exhibited this season.
When Jamaal Tinsley drove the lane and dished to Artest for a layup and a 15-point lead, O'Neal pumped his fist furiously and Tinsley let out an exuberant scream that brought Conseco Fieldhouse to a deafening roar.
''Our energy level was just 10 times different than it was in Games 3 and 4,'' said Reggie Miller, who scored 13 points. ''Hopefully we can bottle this and take it with us down to South Beach.''
Foster, who averaged just 6.1 points during the regular season, got his career high in points with two free throws late in the fourth quarter as the capacity crowd chanted ''Foster! Foster!''
Artest overcame a slow start to get 14 points and six assists for Indiana.
Miami had six players score in double figures, but it wasn't nearly enough to compete with Foster, O'Neal and the Pacers, who shot 51.4 percent.
''His energy was just over the top tonight,'' Miami's Malik Allen said of Foster. ''He really, really came with it and energized this whole team and the crowd. We have to find a way to match that.''
Notes Miller picked up a technical foul for arguing at 5:47 of the first quarter. ... Some of the sellout crowd arrived a bit late after attending Pole Day for the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ... Allen was 3-for-3 in the first quarter and finished with 12 points. ... Pacers G Fred Jones did not play with a strained left shoulder.
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us