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Bill Plaschke

Spurs Find They Don't Know Jack

May 10, 2003|Bill Plaschke

You want the truth, San Antonio?

You can't handle the truth.

Jack Nicholson beat you in his shades.

Devean George beat you on his crutches.

Shaquille O'Neal beat you off the dribble.

On a Cuckoo's Nest kind of Friday, the Lakers beat you with seemingly every ounce of magic and mystique remaining in their duffels.

Whether they have enough left to hang around another week remains to be seen, but it was fun while it lasted, this 110-95 survival victory over the Spurs in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

"There are certain things we can do to contain this club," said a smiling, barely sweating, 39-point-scoring Kobe Bryant after the Lakers cut the Spurs' series lead to two games to one. "We just have to stick to the script."

The script? Who would be bizarre enough to write such a script? This wasn't so much a game as a tall tale, the shaky Lakers strutting home with a miracle cure, a mongrel defense and a pudgy, black-jacketed mascot.

Devean George was supposed to play only an emergency role -- if that -- because of a severely sprained ankle. Yeah, right.

He started and scored the game's first four points, 13 overall, celebrating either trainer Gary Vitti's ability to heal, or Coach Phil Jackson's ability to lie, or both.

"About 20 minutes before the game, Devean just shows up in his uniform, surprised all of us," said Brian Shaw. "We saw him score the first two buckets and said, "If he can do that on a bad wheel, we can also step it up."

The confused and outmanned Laker defenders weren't supposed to be able to withstand the Spur quickness. Sure, sure.

They held the Spurs to 41% shooting, held the Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili express lane to 10 points total, forced San Antonio into so many bad shots that the Spurs could have used a certain schoolboy (cough, cough) spectator named LeBron James.

Oh, and Bruce Bowen? Twenty-seven points on Wednesday, three points on Friday, purple oozing from his black shirt.

"Our problem was moving in front of them and stopping their drives," said George. "Nothing I've done to my ankles keeps me from sliding."

In all, a weird, wondrous, Why-We-Love-L.A. kind of evening.

Of course, it all started with Jack. Nothing symbolized this zoo like Jack.

He has sat at courtside for years, usually with his arms folded across his chest, usually doing nothing more interesting than raising his binoculars to stare at the Laker girls.

But then, midway through the second period, with the officials struggling as the Spurs closed a 17-point Laker lead to seven points, Jack dropped a Shining on them.

He stood and started screaming at official Mark Wunderlich about two allegedly missed calls. When Wunderlich apparently threatened to eject him, Jack went wack.

"Two bad calls and you gonna run me?" he shouted at Wunderlich while waving his arms. "You gonna run me?"

With their beloved nut in danger, the 18,997 Staples Center fans came to his rescue, booing the officials and cheering the fan while momentarily ignoring the game.

"Jack did a wonderful job acting, energizing the crowd," said Jackson. "He got an Oscar from me for that one."

But this was, indeed, far more interesting than any silly movie.

Capturing the Laker emotion, Nicholson started them on an 11-4 run to end the first half, all without a foul-laden O'Neal.

"I just saw 'Anger Management.' I thought I was watching it again," said Bryant. "It was good."

Jack's work done, after officials alerted security and told Nicholson he would be ejected with one more outburst, he spent the rest of the game doing nothing worse than making a joker face.

This series, which looked like a Spur laugh Wednesday in San Antonio, suddenly has a worry-lined championship face.

With Chris Webber sidelined for the rest of the playoffs in Sacramento, it has become the de facto NBA Finals.

With the Laker dynasty on the verge of collapse after two injuries and two bad losses, with the Spurs' insides now tested after this embarrassment, it has become an ultimate test of nerve.

Under that microscope, three Laker wins in four games don't seem so impossible anymore, even without Rick Fox and a fully functioning George.

"Athletically, we haven't been on the same par as a lot of teams this year," Jackson said before the game. "But that's not what it's about. It's about players coming together, that extra effort, that chemistry. That's what we have to find, that resolve."

From George's appearance, to O'Neal's floor-length drive and dunk, to double figures by all five Laker starters, that resolve was everywhere Friday.

It was as if everyone knew the dynasty wouldn't end without a fight, perhaps because everyone feels part of it.

Before tipoff, Pete Sampras walked past the press table and guaranteed a Laker victory. And this was before George showed up.

Advantage, Lakers, Sampras and everyone else who believed.

Another 130-mph serve coming Sunday.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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