SAN ANTONIO - Kobe Bryant looked back and found himself all alone. All but guaranteed the basket, he went up and slammed the ball with a little extra oomph, just for good measure.
One more win, and Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will be all alone in the Western Conference and on their way to the NBA finals. The Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs 93-91 on Tuesday night - surviving a last-second three-point attempt that would have given the Spurs the win - for a 3-1 lead in the conference final.
"It is a big step for us," said Bryant, who led the Lakers with 28 points and 10 rebounds. "Tonight we came out and did a much, much better job to win in this building in this particular game. It's big for us."
The defending champion Spurs lost at home for the first time this post-season and they face elimination when they play Game 5 in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The Lakers were last in the final in 2004 when they lost to Detroit in five games.
Lamar Odom, who was upset with his Game 3 performance, scored 16 points, eight in the fourth quarter, for Los Angeles, while Pau Gasol had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Vladimir Radmanovic added 11 points.
"I just stayed composed. I kept my poise," Odom said. "I just stayed tough, told myself it was a long game."
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 29 points and 17 rebounds, while reserve Brent Barry had 23 points and his last-second three-point attempt could have given the Spurs the win.
Barry and the Spurs brushed off talk that he was fouled on the play by Lakers guard Derek Fisher.
"That's not going to get called in the Western Conference final," Barry said. "Maybe in the regular season. But that call shouldn't be called in the Western Conference final."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said: "If I was the official I wouldn't have called that a foul."
Fisher said he "never thought they would blow a whistle."
"I think we met simultaneously, and there was contact for sure," Fisher said. "But I don't think I ran through him."
The Lakers led all game after opening a 22-8 lead. The Spurs got within 81-79 in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers scored seven straight points.
"I told them at the end of the ballgame, their energy was terrific," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Coming out and responding to a loss and getting a lead ... and playing with that kind of energy, I think, carried us over and we responded every time that they came in, tied the ballgame."
Tony Parker added 23 points for the Spurs, who tied the game five times.
The Spurs shot 40 per cent (30-of-75) from the field and the Lakers shot nearly 45 per cent (38-of-85).
With the Lakers up 93-86 and 50 seconds to play, Gasol missed two free throws.
Manu Ginobili, who had struggled all night, hit a three-pointer to bring the Spurs within four. After a miss by Bryant, Parker scored on a fast break when Odom was called for goaltending, bringing the Spurs within 93-91 with 28 seconds to play.
Fisher missed a shot for Los Angeles but the ball went out of bounds and remained in the Lakers' possession with two seconds on the shot clock.
Bryant missed a jumper and the Spurs had 2.1 seconds left. When Barry's three missed, Bryant pumped his fists in the air and the Lakers were headed home in command of the series.
"Obviously we're in a hole and it's 3-1," Duncan said. "It's one loss and an elimination, but we really feel that if we clean a lot of this stuff up we have an opportunity to get right back in this series."
The Lakers were up 77-70 heading into the fourth quarter. Barry's three brought the Spurs within 77-75 and his running jumper got them to 79-77.
Odom's dunk started the 7-0 run, then his layup balanced on the rim before falling in, and he hit a free throw for a three-point play. Bryant stole the ball for a slam to put the Lakers up 88-79 with 3:29 to play.
Parker got the Spurs within five, then Odom hit two free throws to put the Lakers back up by seven with just under a minute to play.
Los Angeles came out with energy and took advantage of sloppy play by the Spurs to lead by as many as 14 points in the first quarter.
The Lakers dominated the offensive glass, racking up 20 second-chance points in the first half off their 11 offensive rebounds.
Odom highlighted the Lakers' aggressiveness. Early in the first quarter he missed a shot, then suddenly appeared under the basket to grab the rebound and was fouled, making both free throws.
San Antonio was within 28-23 at the end of the opening period.
In the second quarter the Lakers got into foul trouble and San Antonio made the most of it at the free throw line. The Spurs were 17-of-17 in the first half as Odom, Fisher and reserves Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic all picked up their third fouls.
Duncan's jumper tied the game at 45 with 2:10 left in the half. After Luke Walton missed a free throw and a chance for a three-point play with 23 seconds left, Radmanovic chased down the ball and Bryant converted to give the Lakers a 53-47 halftime lead.
It was more of the same in the third. The Spurs tied it twice but never took a lead.
Tied at 67, Bryant took the long pass from Odom and dunked the ball with flash and flair, drawing resounding boos from the crowd. Another dunk by Bryant made it 73-70 before Vujacic was fouled hitting a three-pointer from the corner. He made the free throw to give Los Angeles a 77-70 lead with one quarter to go.
Notes: Joe Crawford, who has a history with the Spurs and had an on-court squabble with Popovich during the conference semifinals, officiated the game. ... Spurs legend David Robinson sat in the second row courtside. He was surrounded by Lakers fans wearing bright yellow jerseys. ... Ginobili got his first points of the game with 1:32 left in the third quarter on two free throws. He finished with seven points, 23 less than he had in Game 3. ... The Lakers outrebounded the Spurs 46-37 and finished with a 26-4 advantage on second-chance points. ... Bryant didn't get to the free throw line.