They had it all the way

Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- The events of Tuesday night weren't as indelible as the renowned "0.4" shot, but Derek Fisher was in the thick of another improbable victory against San Antonio.

The Lakers were leading, barely, in an ever-tightening fourth quarter when Fisher called the other four starters to the side after a timeout.

His forceful delivery conveyed a simple message: We're not coming back here for Game 6.

It looked like the inspirational talk of the year, and then it looked as if it were all for naught, but the final score showed the Lakers holding off the Spurs, 93-91, in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday at AT&T; Center.

The Lakers lead the best-of-seven series, 3-1. Game 5 is Thursday at Staples Center.

"I was just saying that I believed we were going to win this game," Fisher said. "I told them, 'We earned this game. Let's go claim it. If we want to be champions, we'll win these five minutes.' "

The Lakers won the first four minutes after Fisher's words and then almost squandered a seven-point lead in the final minute, but Brent Barry, bumped by Fisher, was wide right on a three-point attempt at the buzzer, preserving the Lakers' two-point edge.

It was a scintillating end to a game the Lakers led from start to finish, a line that is almost becoming redundant in the playoffs. The Lakers have now won four of their last six games without ever trailing.

The pattern was almost predictable -- the Lakers took a lead, the Spurs caught them, the Lakers extended the lead again.

Kobe Bryant had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol rebounded from poor Game 3 efforts. Odom had 16 points and nine rebounds. Gasol had 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

The Lakers took a big win from San Antonio, evoking images of their May 2004 victory over the Spurs on Fisher's improbable shot while washing away the taste of a 19-point defeat in Game 3.

"It's a big step for us," Bryant said. "Game 3 was an opportunity to learn in terms of how hard we need to play, the speed we need to play with. We came out and did a much, much better job to win in this building in this particular game. It's big for us."

It didn't come without its perils, which seemed unlikely after the Lakers took a 93-86 lead after two free throws by Odom with 56.5 seconds to play.

But Manu Ginobili made a three-pointer, Gasol missed two free throws, Bryant missed a layup without killing much of the clock, and Odom was called for goaltending on Tony Parker's layup attempt.

Referees then ruled that Fisher's 17-footer did not hit the rim, meaning the Lakers were left with two seconds on the shot clock.

Bryant's hurried 16-foot fadeaway was short, giving the Spurs the ball with 2.1 seconds left.

Fisher, of course, was involved in the final play of the game.

The Spurs tried to win on a three-point attempt by Barry. There was contact on the play after Barry drew Fisher into the air with a pump fake, but the referees did not make a call.

"I really didn't think, 'Uh-oh, I'm in a bad spot here,' " Fisher said. "He comes into me at the same time I'm coming down. Honestly, I thought it was a great non-call."

So did Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich.

"I think it was a proper no-call from what I just saw [on replay]," he said. "What else do you want me to say? If I was the official, I wouldn't have called that a foul."

Either way, the game belonged to the Lakers, who are a victory away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2004.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was already warning his players.

"They certainly can't rely on home court. They're going to have to go out and play a ballgame," he said.

"We're back at it in less than 48 hours. It's important we come out there and play a similar type of game that we played [Tuesday], with the kind of energy that we had. That will win the ballgame for us."

Despite missing the final shot, Barry was a force off the bench, scoring 23 points in 27 minutes. He made five of 12 three-point attempts. Ginobili, on the other hand, dropped from 30 points in Game 3 to seven points in Game 4.

The Spurs simply couldn't keep pace.

"Every time we had a chance to get close, they hit a big three or get a big rebound and they just kept scoring," Parker said.

In the end, the Lakers had ended San Antonio's perfect 7-0 home record in the playoffs.

A Lakers fan sitting behind the basket held up a sign that said, "It's the start of a new era."

He might be right.


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