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Lakers Win Western Semifinal in 5

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Once the fourth quarter arrives, the Lakers figure there's no way they can lose. With Kobe Bryant on their side, who can blame them?

Bryant struck again Tuesday night, scoring 10 of his 26 points in the final period as Los Angeles beat the San Antonio Spurs 93-87 in Game 5 to win this Western Conference semifinal.

``If the game is close in the fourth quarter, we expect to win,'' Bryant said. ``We play to win; some teams play to lose. We definitely have a swagger about us.''

The Lakers outscored the Spurs 31-26 in the fourth quarter and 125-88 in the final periods in the series.

Bryant scored 11 and 12 points in the final periods of Games 3 and 4, when the Lakers rallied for victories in San Antonio. He had a total of 46 fourth-quarter points in the five games.

Bryant's basket with 2:27 remaining snapped an 83-83 tie and triggered a 10-4 closing run. Rick Fox's layup a minute later gave the Lakers a four-point lead, and Robert Horry's 3-pointer with 56.6 seconds left off a feed from Bryant made it 90-83.

Game and series over.

``In the fourth quarter, Kobe came up big for us with some shots, and obviously made a big pass to finish it,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

The two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, 7-1 in these playoffs and 23-2 in their last 25 postseason games, face the Sacramento Kings in an all-California conference final beginning Saturday at Arco Arena.

In the other playoff game Tuesday night, the Boston Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons 90-81 in Game 5 to close that Eastern Conference semifinal.

The Celtics will play the winner of the New Jersey-Charlotte series. The Nets lead 3-1 and are home against the Hornets on Wednesday night.

Shaquille O'Neal, ailing with assorted injuries, had 21 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks _ all in the second half _ and Rick Fox added 17 points and seven assists for the Lakers.

``We just know how to win in every situation,'' O'Neal said. ``It's been tough because we've been making it tough on ourselves. We're not coming out with a fast start, lots of turnovers.''

But they're finishing strong, with few mistakes.

The Lakers trailed by 13 points in the first half, which ended with the Spurs up 45-39, and had nine turnovers in the opening 24 minutes. They had their only two turnovers of the second half in the third quarter.

Tim Duncan had 34 points and a career playoff-high 25 rebounds for the Spurs. Antonio Daniels added 15 points and Tony Parker scored 14 while David Robinson had no points and three rebounds in 18 foul-plagued minutes.

As was the case in each of the five games in the series, the Spurs led in the fourth quarter _ this time by as many as three points. But for the fourth time in five games, they lost.

``Same kind of game, same result,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``It's disappointing obviously for us, but the Lakers played like champions the last four or five minutes of every game we played.''

And Bryant believes they'll remember that against the Kings.

``We have a rhythm of playing in tight games, pressure situations,'' said Bryant, who also had eight rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers bring a playoff-record 11-game road winning streak into their best-of-seven series against the Kings _ 8-0 last year and 3-0 this year.

Arco Arena will also be the site of Monday night's second game with Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.

The Lakers have won seven of their last eight against Sacramento, starting with a four-game sweep in the second round of last year's playoffs. They are also 16-5 against the Kings since Jackson became their coach in 1999.

``This series is what we've been looking for. I think it's going to be a dramatic one,'' Jackson said. ``Obviously, we are the underdogs because we are starting this series out on the road. But we do have the knowledge that we won three out of four against them this year and have had some success against them in the last two years of the playoffs.''

Celtics 90, Pistons 81

Paul Pierce scored 18 points to lead a balanced offense as Boston advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1988.

Kenny Anderson added 17 points, Antoine Walker 16 and Rodney Rogers 14. Pierce and Walker were sidelined for a long stretch of the final quarter with five fouls each.

``It's a great source of pride for these players and this coaching staff to have this franchise back where it belongs,'' Boston coach Jim O'Brien said.

Chucky Atkins scored 22 points, Corliss Williamson had 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter and Michael Curry added 15 for the Pistons. Jerry Stackhouse shot 3-of-18 for eight points and Cliff Robinson was 2-of-10 for four points.
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