SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs have pushed the Los Angeles Lakers (news) to the brink of elimination.
But the three-time champions are proving they won’t go away easily — if at all.
One game after overcoming a 16-point deficit, the Lakers nearly erased a 25-point hole before falling 96-94 when Robert Horry’s 3-pointer with 3 seconds left went in and out Tuesday night.
David Robinson got the final rebound, letting the Spurs, who never trailed, take a 3-2 lead in the second-round series. San Antonio ruined the return of Lakers coach Phil Jackson three days after undergoing a heart procedure.
The Lakers will have to win the next two games to advance to the Western Conference finals. Otherwise, their postseason will end the same way it did the last time they failed to win it all — going down to San Antonio in the conference semifinals. That was in 1999, when the Spurs won the title.
Game 6 is Thursday night in Los Angeles, with a possible Game 7 in San Antonio on Saturday. The Lakers are 0-5 this season at the Spurs’ new home, the SBC Center.
Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Tony Parker had 21 points, but they were as cold as all their teammates when it mattered most.
The Spurs were up 76-51 with 3:37 left in the third period and were still ahead 87-71 with 7:21 to play. Then the Lakers used a 15-3 run to get within four, prompting Duncan to slam the ball down while calling a timeout.
A beautiful alley oop from Duncan to David Robinson, who had six points after going scoreless in Game 4, made it 95-88.
But Kobe Bryant, who had 24 of his 36 points in the second half, hit a 3-pointer with 49.1 seconds left. Shaquille O’Neal, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, turned a miss by Horry into a three-point play with 19.7 to go to make it 95-94.
Stephen Jackson could’ve made it a three-point lead with 15.1 left, but made only one of two free throws. O’Neal rebounded the second miss and the Lakers called time.
Horry got a wide-open look from the left side. It looked good off his hand, rekindling memories of his amazing game-winning shot against Sacramento in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals.
Unlike that shot, this one didn’t fall, which means more heroics will be needed if Los Angeles is going to be the first four-time champion since the Boston Celtics won their eighth straight title in 1966.
That it even came down to the last shot was stunning, considering the only time the game was tied was 2-2. The Spurs led by 11 after one quarter, were up as many as 23 before halftime and were ahead 80-64 going into the fourth period.
The near-miss leaves Los Angeles with three losses in a series for only the third time during its championship run. The Lakers trailed Sacramento 3-2 last season and were tied at 3 against Portland in the 2000 conference finals.
Jackson, who has won his last 26 playoff series — and six championships — while coaching Los Angeles and the Chicago Bulls, was back on the bench three days after undergoing a procedure to open a heart artery that was more than 90 percent blocked. He hasn’t lost a postseason series since 1995.
Jackson watched Game 4 on TV hours after being released from a hospital. He saw his team trail by 16 in the second quarter, then rally for a four-point win, aided by last-minute blunders by Parker and the Spurs.
San Antonio seemed intent on avoiding another meltdown — during the first three quarters, that is.
A 10-2 lead midway through the first period gave the Spurs a nice cushion, then another 10-2 run early in the second stretched the lead to 19.
A big key was that San Antonio kept answering baskets, preventing the Lakers from generating any momentum.
There was more of the same in the third quarter, with frustration leading to O’Neal getting a technical foul for a forearm shove of Stephen Jackson after Jackson fouled him.
Stanislav Medvedenko had 13 points in 17 minutes, including seven in the fourth quarter. Horry had just six points, going 3-for-10 and 0-of-6 behind the arc.
Notes:@ After seeing O’Neal and Bryant dominate the early scoring in Game 4, the Lakers’ first 12 points came from all five starters. … When San Antonio eliminated Los Angeles in 1999, it was by a sweep. … Phil Jackson got as much sympathy as expected from an opposing crowd. One fan held a sign that read, “Phil, whining about the refs is bad for your heart.”