YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Lakers Lose Miss Match

With both sides shooting badly, the Spurs' 21-9 scoring edge at line is difference

May 06, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — That's five in a row to this team and three in a row in this building, and if there is something to the San Antonio Spurs at SBC Center, the Lakers are beginning to get it, though Phil Jackson had other ideas entirely.

The Spurs defeated the Lakers, 87-82, Monday night in the opener of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals, and the Lakers again appear destined for the rigorous route, having lost forward Devean George to a sprained ankle along the way, for an unknown period. Game 2 is Wednesday night here.

Swept by the Spurs in the regular season, the Lakers rode Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter, drew within three points in the final minute, then failed to score on consecutive late possessions.

"We had our chances," Bryant said. "We played poorly."

Bryant said afterward he didn't care, didn't care that shots did not fall, that the Spurs generally were more aggressive, more balanced and more willful. Bryant scored 37 points, Shaquille O'Neal had 24 points and 21 rebounds before he fouled out with more than three minutes remaining, and still it was the Lakers who were forced to push back from the big last-quarter deficit, and now from a one-game-to-none deficit.

They shot 39.5% from the field, rarely went to the free-throw line and awake this morning down a game, down a small forward and without a victory against the Spurs since they eliminated them from last year's playoffs.

Bryant said he did not care.

"It's just a challenge," he said. "That's all it is. I don't feel like, 'Poor Lakers, we lost another player.'

"It's about knocking down some shots. We had an opportunity tonight. I don't think anybody in our locker room feels particularly bad."

The Spurs, 60-game winners in the regular season and top-seeded in the West, built their advantage at the free-throw line. They shot 35 to the Lakers' 12, 19 to the Lakers' three in the fourth quarter. Tim Duncan, presented his league MVP trophy before the game, had 28 points and by himself shot more free throws -- 14 -- than did all of the Lakers, who were outscored, 21-9, at the line.

It was the Lakers' postgame annoyance and Jackson's postgame theme.

"I mean," he said, "that's ridiculous in a ballgame this hotly contested. Tim Duncan had more than my whole ball team. I know it was an MVP night for him, but that's ridiculous."

Indeed, Jackson started at least one conversation with referee Eddie Rush with, "I mean, I know the guy's the MVP, but ... "

In a series that apparently will be decided by the possession, the Lakers turned over the basketball 19 times. Jackson, who occasionally chides other coaches for the same observations, said many of the turnovers were caused by Spur fouls, which he said went uncalled, and so the series went very quickly to the officiating, and to the sometimes ferocious inside play.

Often surrounded, O'Neal was called for four fouls in the fourth quarter, two on the offensive end, including his sixth, and two on one Spur possession 18 seconds apart.

Though Jackson said, "We had a night where things didn't go great for us," he loved how O'Neal played, and his activity as a rebounder would seem to bode well for the rest of the series.

O'Neal hugged David Robinson five minutes before the game, and sat quietly as Commissioner David Stern handed the MVP trophy to Duncan, the kind of thing that often annoys O'Neal.

He sort of stared off into the crowd, sweat rolling off his face as Stern said nice things about Duncan. Bryant stood and applauded. Jackson applauded politely. O'Neal tightened his shoelaces.

He had shaved his head and face, an occasional playoff ritual, and later shrugged away one game.

"We just have to be more aggressive," he said. "I'm not going to change my game. I'm going to keep playing my game and hopefully we'll get some help from our role players."

The Spurs missed 14 free throws, which kept the Lakers in the game, that and Bryant. Bryant, with O'Neal on the bench, by the seat of everyone's pants, slashing, slinging turnarounds from, oh, 19 feet, and every one leaning. He made 10 of 19 shots in the second half, when he scored 23 points, and seemed to get a feel for a floor that eluded him in the regular season.

He took a lot on himself, from the 38 shots -- 34 before O'Neal fouled out -- to the gambling, daring defense that occasionally left Manu Ginobili or Bruce Bowen alone on the perimeter, teammates scrambling to cover for him. Ginobili scored 15 points and had four steals.

Asked if Bryant weren't overly aggressive, Jackson said, "I can't judge that. He has to judge that for himself. He's an experienced player."

He did admit that the Lakers would need more than two players -- Bryant and O'Neal -- involved in the offense. The Spurs have gotten under the skin of the triangle. Through three quarters, the Lakers did not have a point from their bench.

O'Neal fouled out with 3:26 remaining, by which time the Lakers had been without George for eight minutes. O'Neal fouled out for the eighth time in 131 playoff games. They'd go the rest of the way with Bryant, Samaki Walker, Brian Shaw, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher.

Fifteen seconds into the fourth quarter, George landed awkwardly on his left foot and had to be helped from the floor. As trainers and teammates rushed toward him, George screamed and writhed in agony, and Jackson looked away, and Rick Fox shook his head.

The first Laker possession of the fourth quarter had ended with a turnover and Ginobili broke out, George chasing.

They went up together, and came down together, only George did not immediately get up.

Los Angeles Times Articles