Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant scored 22 points and dished out eight assists, and the Los Angeles Lakers used a big second half run to move a victory away from a return trip to the NBA Finals with a 103-94 triumph over the Denver Nuggets.
Lamar Odom had a spectacular game with 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in a reserve role for the Lakers, who grabbed a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals. Game 6 will be in Denver on Friday, when the Lakers can punch their ticket to the title series. Last year, they were beaten in six games by the Boston Celtics.
Pau Gasol chipped in 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in the win.
"I think our mindset has to be extremely aggressive and tough," said Gasol. "I think we have to make very few mistakes there. We can't afford any mistakes, because they capitalize them well, very well."
Statistically speaking, the Lakers have the upper hand. When a series is tied at 2-2 in NBA history, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to take the set 83 percent of the time. Additionally, Lakers coach Phil Jackson is 49-1 in playoff series when holding a series lead of any kind. Also, the Lakers have not lost a 2-2 best-of-seven series when winning Game 5 since the 1969 NBA Finals vs. Boston, a string of 13 straight winning sets.
Carmelo Anthony poured in 31 points for the Nuggets, who also received 12 points apiece from Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups. Denver, though, was hurt by poor second half shooting. The Nuggets shot 29.3 percent (12-of-41) over the final two quarters, compared to 51.7 percent (15-of-29) for the Lakers. Additionally, the Nuggets went 5-of-21 shooting in the last quarter.
"The games that we've lost, they had an advantage on the inside. The games that we've won, we had an advantage," said Anthony. "So it's been going back and forth. I think come Friday we've got to take that advantage back, being a little more physical inside."
Down, 73-66, with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, the Lakers used a 21-3 spurt stretching into the fourth to take control, eventually holding on down the stretch. Shannon Brown started the burst with a slam and finished it by beating the shot clock on a long jumper, giving the hosts an 87-76 cushion with just over eight minutes left.
"We found a special that worked for us that made them double team, rotated the ball," said Jackson. "Kobe was moving the basketball. We found guys open for easier shots tonight and changed the complexity of the game and gave us a bust out."
The last time the Lakers played in Denver, Monday night, they lost, 120-101, as the Nuggets converted 37-of-49 free throws. Jackson was critical of the officiating and drew a $25,000 fine.
The tables turned two nights later, as the Lakers connected on 26-of-35 foul shots in Game 5, while Denver was 23-of-30.
"It means we respond to the challenge," said Bryant. "Denver's a tough team. And the way that they beat us in Game 4, I think there were a lot of people having doubts and we did a good job responding to the challenge."
The contest also marked the fourth time in league playoff history a game was tied after each of the first three quarters, meaning it all came down to the final 12 minutes.
Odom scored eight during the pivotal run, and the Lakers scored the opening 11 points of the final quarter. His slam, which turned into a three-point play, opened an 81-76 lead. Nene was then whistled for a technical foul, and shortly after Odom made a hook shot, Bryant's two free throws and Brown's shot to beat the shot clock provided the big margin.
"It seems like we get a little spark when I play well," said Odom. "And tonight I just came in, I just wanted to give it everything I got, whether the ball went in or not. It just happened to go in."
The Nuggets, who were held without a field goal for nearly a seven-minute stretch, finally broke the streak with a Linas Kleiza three-ball with nearly 7 1/2 minutes left.
Denver trimmed the deficit to four, the last time at 93-89 following a pair of Anthony free throws inside four minutes. Trevor Ariza stemmed the tide with a three-point play, and Odom was instrumental in putting away the Nuggets. He converted a layup off a smooth pass from Bryant and finished off the three- point play for a 99-91 cushion with 1:02 left.
"That was the difference in the game I think," said Martin of the big run in the fourth quarter. "We missed a few easy shots, I know I missed a few right around the rim. They came down and got a couple easy baskets, a couple open jumpers."
Anthony Carter's bucket in the closing seconds of the first quarter tied the game at 25 for the Nuggets. His three-pointer with a minute left in the half moved the Nuggets to a 54-49 lead, but Sasha Vujacic's three-ball in the waning moments evened the game at 56 moving to the half.
Since moving to the Staples Center prior to the 1999-2000 season, the Lakers are 61-13 in the postseason...Ariza and Derek Fisher each scored 12 for the Lakers...Anthony was 12-of-13 from the charity stripe, while Bryant was 9- of-10...Bryant accounted for seven of LA's 16 turnovers...Anthony, who went 3- of-16 from the field in Game 4, was 9-of-23 in this contest.