The third-seeded Lakers eliminated the second-seeded Spurs from the playoffs for the second straight year and advanced to a much-anticipated showdown with the top-seeded Sacramento Kings, who host Game One of the conference finals Saturday afternoon.
Game Five of the Lakers-Spurs series followed almost the same similar script as the previous four. Led by Tim Duncan, the Spurs maintained control into the fourth quarter, where their offense stalled and Bryant, who scored 46 fourth quarter points in the series, took charge.
He scored on consecutive possessions to give the Lakers control, penetrating for a spin move that gave L.A. an 83-81 lead with 2:57 remaining, and after a layup by Antonio Daniels gave San Antonio the seventh and last tie of the quarter, he drove for a bank shot to give the Lakers the lead for good with 2:22 to go.
"We expect to win every game," Bryant said. "(If the) game is close in the fourth quarter, we expect to win. We play to win. Some teams play not to lose. The team definitely had a little swagger about ourselves and a little more confidence about ourselves."
"Same kind of game, same result," said Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. "It's disappointing for us, but the Lakers played like champions the last four or five minutes of every game we played."
"You can definitely see the experience that they have and their cohesiveness as a unit because they've been through this and we haven't," Daniels admitted.
Duncan, who had a monster game with 34 points and 25 rebounds, missed inside, leading to a driving layup by Rick Fox with 1:27 left. San
The play was similar to the one that ended the first-round series against Portland. In both instances, Horry took a pass from a driving Bryant and hit a shot from the right corner.
"I thought we really had a chance at this series," Duncan said. "The Lakers proved to be more than we could handle. Again, we had a (heck) of a run at it. We had opportunities to win games and make it a different series, but that's just the way the ball rolls sometimes."
Shaquille O'Neal had 21 points and 11 rebounds for two-time defending champion Los Angeles, which has won 23 of its last 25 playoff games.
About playing the Kings?
"We're one of the only teams that have won on their court," he said. "We just have to play our game. We're not going to play back and forth. They have something to prove. We don't."