LOS ANGELES - The Lakers celebrated the Western Conference championship before their adoring fans at Staples Center, but not too hard.
They’ve got one more goal to reach before the real excitement begins.
Kobe Bryant scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers rallied from an early 17-point deficit to beat the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs 100-92 on Thursday night and win the conference finals in five games.
They get a week off before opening the NBA finals next Thursday night at Boston or Detroit. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night in Detroit.
“I think it is a tremendous accomplishment,” Bryant said. “I think the West is extremely tough. We’re all extremely excited and proud about it. Now, it’s time to go on and see if we can’t finish it off.”
The Lakers are 12-3 in the playoffs, including 8-0 at Staples Center, where they haven’t lost in two months. They have won 14 straight home games and 21 of their last 24 postseason games at home.
“My heart’s still pumping, that adrenaline is still running from the game,” said Lamar Odom, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. “Maybe when I sit down and have something to eat, I’ll realize what just happened.
“We came out here, played our game, and won. It’s satisfying, but one more step.”
A basket by Odom gave the Lakers an 83-76 lead with 5:40 remaining, but a 3-pointer by Brent Barry and a basket by Tony Parker drew the Spurs within two points. Manu Ginobili missed a 3-pointer that could have given San Antonio the lead before Bryant’s jumper with 3:33 to play made it 85-81.
Pau Gasol had 12 points, a career playoff-high 19 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots and backup guards Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar added nine and eight points, respectively.
Parker scored 23 points and Duncan had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for the Spurs. Michael Finley scored 13 points, Barry and Kurt Thomas added 11 each and Ginobili was held to nine, shooting just 3-for-9.
“Just got to gear it up again to go to next year,” Duncan said. “Love what we had this year. We just weren’t good enough through stretches.”
Former Lakers star and executive Jerry West presented the Lakers the Western Conference championship trophy on the court following the game. By that time, the players were all wearing T-shirts and caps denoting their championship status.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has won nine championships, tied for the NBA record with former Boston coach Red Auerbach.
“We look at both those opponents (Boston and Detroit) with a great deal of respect and know that we have a great, great hill to climb to be able to finish in the Finals and win.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pointed to his team’s offense — and the Lakers’ defense — as the keys to the series.
“I thought we did a fine job,” he said. “We just didn’t muster the offense, for a variety of reasons. The fact that we didn’t come through offensively is a disappointment, but part of that is a credit to the Lakers.
“(The Spurs) just played a team that was better. That’s why the Lakers won. The better team won. You get a seven-game series, you win four games, you’re the best team.”
The Lakers clinched their berth in the finals a year to the day after Bryant called the team’s front office “a mess” during a radio interview. A day later, he demanded a trade, ultimately saying he preferred playing on Pluto rather than returning to the team he joined as an 18-year-old in 1996.
The situation calmed down until Lakers owner Jerry Buss told reporters during training camp in October he was listening to offers for Bryant, angering the superstar once again.
But once the season began, Bryant bonded with his teammates, led the Lakers to the No. 1 seed in the rugged West and won his first MVP award.
“Once the season started, I didn’t think about a trade or anything like that,” Bryant said. “I just buckled down into what I needed to do to get this team to play our best basketball. That’s what we did.”
PBT: San Antonio found what worked and it’s on the Grizzlies to raise their level enough in Game 2 in San Antonio on Tuesday to get a split in the series.
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May 29: Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant look ahead after winning the Western Conference.
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