Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 24 News List

One good shot deserves another in LA series


Long before he launched the shot that thrust "point-four" into the Los Angeles Lakers lexicon, Derek Fisher grasped the weight of one night's effort and the possibilities that lay between clock ticks on a humid May evening.

He was a firsthand witness to the Kobe-to-Shaq lob against Portland that launched the Lakers' three-peat run in 2000 and to Robert Horry's 3-point stunner against Sacramento that made the third championship possible.

On such plays are legends and championships forged. On the other end of the spectrum lies Horry's 3-point shot that cruelly rattled out last May in San Antonio and perhaps denied the Lakers a fourth consecutive title.

So as everyone gathered before tipoff Thursday night at the SBC Center, the conference semifinals tied 2-2 -- exactly as it was one year to the day earlier, when Horry misfired -- Fisher spoke up. Though 10 wins away from the championship, he said the Lakers could take their greatest step with a victory right then, right there.

"Before the game, we always huddle up and I really honestly felt -- and still feel -- that winning that game last night puts us in a position to win the championship," Fisher said. "That's how much that game really meant, to be able to go into San Antonio and win that game against arguably the best team in basketball other than ourselves.

"The way that they've been playing, I really felt like if we could figure out a way to win that game, we could definitely come back home and win on Saturday and put ourselves in a position where we're four wins away from being back in the Finals."

Two hours and 34 minutes later, Fisher took an inbounds pass from Gary Payton with 0.4 seconds left, turned and heaved an 18-footer that made him an instant star and put the Lakers firmly on track for a fourth championship in five years.

"I'm still numb now," Fisher said Friday afternoon.

The Sacramento Kings or Minnesota Timberwolves would still stand between the Lakers and the Finals, and there is an Eastern Conference opponent to think about, but few would question that San Antonio stands as the greatest obstacle to a Lakers revival.

From a 2-0 series deficit to a 3-2 lead, the Lakers have recaptured the swagger, self-respect and belief in the impossible that carried them through three consecutive title-winning springs. They can close out the Spurs tonight at Staples Center or Wednesday in San Antonio.

The Lakers have won 10 consecutive closeout games, dating back to the 2000 Finals.

"We have a killer instinct, we like putting teams away," Kobe Bryant said. "San Antonio, they're going to come here ready to play. Yeah, it was a demoralizing loss for them in Game 5, but they're going to come back ready to play in Game 6. We just have to make sure we're ready."

The Spurs lost four consecutive games only once this season, in early December. But in the past seven days alone, the Lakers have snapped two lengthy Spurs streaks -- 17 consecutive wins at home and 17 in a row overall.

Tim Duncan has gone 16 for 42 (.381) from the field in the past three games. Tony Parker has averaged 13.7 points on 18-for-53 shooting (.340) in the three losses after averaging 25 points on 50 percent shooting in the two victories.

And the Spurs are now stuck in the same position the Lakers were one year ago. The Lakers had fought back from a 25-point deficit to put Horry in position to win Game 5 in 2003. On Thursday, as their tin-can arena rumbled, the Spurs erased a 16-point deficit and appeared to have the win when Duncan sank a falling-down 18-footer in the final second.

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