Bryant made a fantastic follow shot with 5.1 seconds remaining, completing a stirring comeback and giving the Los Angeles Lakers an 87-85 victory over the Spurs, who again stumbled down the stretch.
For the second straight game, the Lakers shut down the Spurs, rallied behind Bryant and stunned a huge Alamodome crowd. The two-time defending champions opened a commanding 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series and can wrap it up with a win at home Tuesday.
"This game was a lot like the first three," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We did a lot of good things to give us a chance to win, but LA came through and it was another disappointing loss."
Just as he was Friday, Bryant was phenomenal in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his 28 points. In the last three minutes, he drilled two 3-pointers to tie the game before making the game-winner that extended the Lakers' NBA record playoff road winning streak to 11 games.
"I love playing in pressure-type situations," Bryant said. "I've grown into this role, to deliver when the game is on the line."
"Coming out of the huddle before the last shot, I said to him, 'Bring it home for us,'" Lakers forward Samaki Walker said. "And he said, 'This is what I live for.' He's that kind of player."
Both coaches were blown away by Bryant's ability to take over the endgame.
"He has the uncommon will to win," Popovich said. "It's the exact same will to win as Michael Jordan."
"I don't think there's any question that he believes in himself," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "His optimism, composure and drive are similar (to Jordan)."
After Shaquille O'Neal rebounded Robert Horry's missed 3-pointer, Bryant reset the offense above the 3-point arc. He dribbled off his foot, but the loose ball was tracked down by Derek Fisher, who drove and pulled up for a jumper that bounced high off the rim.
Bryant soared for the offensive rebound, landed and rose again to flip a one-handed shot over Tim Duncan to give the Lakers the lead.
"When I picked up the ball up, the first thing that came to mind was to look at the shot clock," Fisher said. "All I wanted to do was get the ball on the rim and let one of our guys go get it."
"I saw the loose ball and I saw Fish run and pick it up," Bryant said. "I saw him coming and I just tried to move and get out of his way. If it didn't go in, I wanted to be in position. It bounced my way and I went up and grabbed it."
San Antonio had a chance to tie, but Terry Porter slipped after receiving the inbounds pass. He shoveled the ball to Duncan, whose 18-footer shot was rushed and way short.
The Spurs sputtered again as they were held to 10 points in the fourth quarter and just one in the final six minutes. They shot 3-of-18 in the final period and missed their final 10 shots.
Last year, San Antonio was swept by Los Angeles in the conference finals, losing the final two games by a combined 68 points. This year, it has had a chance to win every game from the two-time defending champions but has averaged just 15.5 points in the final period.
"There's no formula for it," Duncan said. "We play better for long periods of time, but they end it better."
"We know their spirits are low and they should be right now," Bryant said. "Ours would be, too, if we were in this situation."
Duncan had another terrific game with 30 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. But Los Angeles collapsed its defense on him, and he got very little help from his teammates.
"In the fourth quarter, we had to take the ball out of his hands," Jackson said. "We made the commitment to get it out of his hands."
"I turned down a couple of looks earlier than I should have," Duncan said. "I was trying to be patient. I should have been more selfish and taken the shot."
O'Neal had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Horry added 13 and nine for the Lakers, whose three wins have been by a combined 18 points. They have not led by more than 10 points at any point in the series.
The Spurs led, 75-67, entering the final period and a 3-pointer by Bruce Bowen pushed the advantage to 82-72 with 6:57 left. That was San Antonio's last basket.
"For a while there, I thought it was going real well," Spurs center David Robinson said. "All of a sudden, the well just dried up."
Duncan made two free throws for an 84-74 lead with 6:15 to play before the offense ground to a halt. San Antonio would dump the ball into the low post to Duncan, who would pass out of a double-team to Bowen, or Danny Ferry, or Antonio Daniels, who would miss a shot.
"We tried to make it difficult for him, crowd him out and not give him easy baskets," Bryant said. "We wanted to force him to give the ball up. He's not the type of player to force it."
The Lakers halved the deficit with five free throws. Duncan blocked a layup by O'Neal with 3:25 to go, but Bryant sank a pair of 3-pointers around a free throw by Duncan, giving LA an 85-85 tie with 2:10 to go.
Bryant missed a drive and Duncan was called for a charge before the winning basket.
The Lakers shot 42 percent (33-of-79) from the field and held the Spurs to 40 percent (28-of-70). They owned a 48-38 edge on the boards.
Tony Parker scored 15 points and Robinson added 12 and 11 rebounds for San Antonio.
Duncan and Bryant each picked up two fouls in the first quarter, when the Spurs got a lift from Robinson. After missing the first two games with a bad back and playing poorly in Game Three, he scored 10 points in the first half, helping San Antonio to a 46-42 lead.
A three-point play by Bowen built the lead to 56-46 with 8:48 remaining in the third quarter. The Lakers got within four points, but O'Neal committed a flagrant foul on Daniels. His free throws and a jumper by Duncan made it 73-63 with 1:12 left.