SAN ANTONIO 96, LA LAKERS 94 ----------------------------
SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Robert Horry missed a 3-pointer he always makes, and the Los Angeles Lakers lost a game they never should have had a chance to win.
Horry's potential winning 3-pointer rattled in and out just before the buzzer, killing a remarkable rally from a 25-point deficit and dealing the Lakers a 96-94 loss to the San Antonio Spurs that has the three-time defending champions on the brink of elimination.
"It ruined a great comeback," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
The fifth-seeded Lakers trail the Western Conference semifinals, 3-2, and are in what is becoming a familiar position. In last year's conference finals against Sacramento, Los Angeles lost Game Five on the road before winning Game Six at home and Game Seven on the road.
The Lakers looked awful for the better part of three quarters. They trailed, 78-53, late in the third period and by 16 points in the fourth quarter before beginning a comeback that was helped along by a serious case of jitters by the top-seeded Spurs.
San Antonio still seemed safe when David Robinson tipped home a lob pass for a 95-88 lead with 1:38 remaining. But Kobe Bryant drilled a 3-pointer, Shaquille O'Neal had a three-point play and Stephen Jackson split a pair of free throws with 15 seconds to go, leaving the Spurs with a two-point lead.
From the left corner, Bryant rose for what looked to be a shot but passed to an open Horry, who has made a career of draining clutch 3-pointers. He holds the NBA playoff mark for 3-pointers in a game without a miss and saved the Lakers' season last year with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game Four against Sacramento, one of the great shots in postseason history.
But the present has not been kind to Horry. With Tony Parker fruitlessly flying at him, his shot from the left wing rattled inside the rim but popped out into the hands of Robinson, who passed to Parker to extinguish the clock - and allow the Spurs a huge exhale.
"I am supposed to be known for that kind of shot," Horry said. "I thought it was on the money. I wanted the ball. I did everything right. I got my feet set, it just did not fall."
"It looked good from where I was standing," Bryant said. "He had perfect arc on the ball, good rotation. It looked like it was going down and then it came back up."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich felt the same way.
"It would be something like a great gulp and a lowering of the heart organ to the belly, that sort of thing," he said. "That's his shot; we've seen it before."
"I was just hoping that it doesn't go in," said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who dropped into the paint and left Horry on the perimeter. "That's all I was thinking."
Horry missed all six of his 3-pointers. He is 0-of-15 from the arc in this series and a frigid 2-of-35 in the postseason.
"In a situation like that, I never doubt myself," Horry said.
Throughout the postseason, there have been signs the Lakers may not have enough to become just the second team in NBA history to win four straight titles. Forward Rick Fox suffered a season-ending injury in the first round and Jackson underwent an angioplasty that forced him to miss Game Four. Now, the normally reliable Horry is not coming through.
"That game put a lot of stress on coach," Horry said. "Hopefully, next time out we can (get) up 25 and take some of the stress off him."
Duncan had 27 points, 14 rebounds and five assists for the Spurs, who are one win away from reaching the conference finals for the third time in five years.
The Lakers again were led by the 1-2 punch of Bryant, who scored 36 points, and O'Neal, who added 20 and 12 rebounds. They remained winless in five visits to the SBC Center, where they will have to win Game Seven to keep their season alive.
Game Six is Thursday at Los Angeles.
"Just win. Win at all costs," Bryant said. "That's it."
The Spurs never trailed but didn't exactly finish with a flourish. Bryant made two 3-pointers to close the third quarter and cut the deficit to 80-64. With O'Neal on the bench to start the final period, Bryant got some help from Slava Medvedenko.
A jumper by Medvedenko, who scored seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, made it 88-79 with 5:12 remaining. Jackson leaked out for a hoop, but O'Neal made a pair from the line, Bryant made a 3-pointer and rookie Jannero Pargo pulled up for a jumper that made it 90-86 with 3:29 left.
Parker drove for a basket and Bryant had a shot blocked by Bruce Bowen, who hit 1-of-2 from the line with 2:03 to play.
"If we ever figure out how to stop someone in the fourth quarter or score in the fourth quarter, we'll be dangerous," Popovich said.
Parker scored 21 points and Jackson and Bowen added 12 apiece for the Spurs, who shot 48 percent (38-of-79) from the field. The trio did most of its damage in the first half, when San Antonio looked unstoppable.
Parker scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Spurs sprinted to a 29-18 lead. A pair of baskets by Duncan and 3-pointers by Bowen and rookie Manu Ginobili keyed a 14-4 burst that widened the advantage to 43-22 early in the second period.
"(Parker) did a great job of getting us that lead early and putting us in the position to jump out of the gates," Robinson said.
"It was nice to see him back from vacation," Duncan added.
The Lakers trailed, 56-38, at halftime, and things didn't get much better until late in the third quarter. LA got no closer than 16 points and fell behind, 78-53, on two free throws by Duncan with 2:36 left.
The Lakers shot 47 percent (38-of-81).