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Spurs Left Pointing Fingers at Themselves

May 10, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Home-court advantage?

San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich shrugged off the question with a smirk and a condescending look.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "Our arena, their arena, playing outside, playing in some barn. It doesn't matter. Just go out and play."

Those remarks were made Friday before Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Lakers and Spurs at Staples Center.

Before the Spurs had lost for the first time in the series.

Before the Lakers had gotten 40 free throws to only 24 for the Spurs.

Before the unexpected appearance of Devean George in the starting lineup had created a firestorm of emotion for the Lakers.

Before the needling of an official by actor Jack Nicholson, seated courtside, had ignited the sellout crowd.

Afterward the Spurs tried to downplay the environment inside Staples Center.

"I don't think we came with the appropriate fear," Popovich said. "A little fear is good. We played as if we thought somebody was going to give something to us."

The Spurs also refused to buy into the officiating excuse.

"I know the officiating changes on the road," said center David Robinson, "but it's only a few points. That's no big deal. I'm not worried about that. You still have to play good basketball."

San Antonio's Malik Rose conceded Staples might be a factor.

"But only in the last three quarters," he said. "In the first quarter, there's nobody here. You know all those L.A. people come in late."

Rose was willing to give credit to George, who played after spraining his ankle in Game 1, an injury that left him in agony on the court and seemingly out of the series.

"He fought through a lot of pain," Rose said. "Good for him. I saw him warming up before the game. I knew they had to do something."

San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen also expressed admiration for George.

"You've got to give him credit after what he went through," Bowen said. "They were able to feed off that."

Said guard Stephen Jackson: "We're not worried about anything. We're not angry. We're not upset about the refs. We just didn't play well tonight."

Why? If Staples wasn't the key and officiating wasn't the key, then what was it?

Defense, said Robinson. The Lakers shot 50.7% from the field after averaging 42.2% in the first two games.

"Our defense usually keeps us in the game," Robinson said. "but it didn't happen tonight.

"Our defense hasn't been this poor in a long time."

As Robinson spoke, an angry snarl came from another corner of the small visiting clubhouse. A cameraman had stepped on Manu Ginobili's foot.

Another hazard of playing on the road, dressing in those tiny locker rooms.

That ought to be worth another smirk from Popovich.

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