LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Lakers secured an NBA finals berth for the first time in four years by mounting a dramatic fightback to beat the San Antonio Spurs 100-92 in Game Five on Thursday.
Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant celebrates with his teammates and the Western Conference trophy after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference final basketball playoff series in Los Angeles, May 29, 2008. [Agencies]
Kobe Bryant orchestrated the recovery with a towering display as the Lakers came from 17 points behind early in the second half to clinch the best-of-seven Western Conference finals 4-1.
The All-Star guard, the NBA's Most Valuable Player, top-scored with 39 points as Los Angeles won their eighth consecutive home playoff game this post-season.
Bryant also registered three rebounds and three assists while forward Lamar Odom contributed 13 points and Spanish center Pau Gasol 12, along with a career playoff-high 19 rebounds.
Spurs guard Tony Parker led the way with 23 points for the defending champions who have clinched four NBA titles in the last nine years.
"This is a dream come true, a dream come true," an elated Bryant said in a courtside television interview after the Lakers were presented with the Western Conference trophy.
"It is such a blessing to share this with a group of guys, who are like brothers. It's such an unbelievable feeling. It's the answer to a prayer.
"We knew we could play better and the first half was tough for us. They caught us off guard but we cut the deficit to a manageable game by halftime. Then we came out in the second half and put our foot on the gas.
"And we ain't done yet," Bryant added, referring to the NBA championship finals where the Lakers will meet either the Boston Celtics or the Detroit Pistons.
"We play for one thing and one thing only, and that is championships. This is big, big stuff for us and we are all really proud of what we have accomplished. But now the real season starts."
The Lakers made a surprisingly lacklustre start as the Spurs dominated the first quarter, Michael Finley pouring in two three-pointers to put the defending champions 28-15 ahead.
San Antonio stretched their lead to 17 points early in the second period before reserve Jordan Farmar sparked a brief Lakers fightback with a 6-0 solo burst.
A twisting drive to the basket for a lay-up cut the deficit to 33-22 and the capacity crowd at the Staples Center, stunned into silence moments earlier, erupted in a cacophony of noise.
The inspirational Bryant, with loud chants of "MVP, MVP" ringing in his ears, shot four out of six from the floor before the Lakers closed the first half just 48-42 behind.
Urged on by an energised crowd including Hollywood actors Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington and Cameron Diaz, the home team raised the tempo after the break.
A Bryant two-point jumper put the Lakers ahead 61-59 late in the third quarter before he set up a stunning three-pointer by Vladimir Radmanovic on the buzzer for a 64-63 lead'
Bryant, who helped the Lakers win three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-02, dominated the final period by scoring 17 of his 39 points as the older and much more experienced Spurs players ran out of steam.
"He was unbelievable again," Spurs forward Manu Ginobili said of Bryant. "When his team couldn't score he just took over and made some crazy shots. He's the best player in the league."