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Mother of All Revivals

There's life in Lakers yet, and they prove it in a rout of the Spurs that cuts their deficit to 2-1 in the series. O'Neal has 28 points, 15 rebounds.

May 10, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

If the question was the Lakers' capability, if it was still in them, if they could stand shoulder to shoulder and do something dynamic over a single afternoon, then Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals settled it.

They beat back their season's potential "death knell," as Coach Phil Jackson had called it the day before, and routed the San Antonio Spurs, 105-81, at Staples Center on Sunday.

Shaquille O'Neal had 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks, Kobe Bryant drove a different-looking Laker defense and Gary Payton returned to the series, all on an afternoon that was theirs almost from the start and ended, for all intents and purposes, sometime late in the third quarter.

The Spurs, who lost for the first time since March 23, 18 games ago, lead the best-of-seven series, two games to one. Game 4 is here Tuesday night, a 7:30 start Bryant will race back from Eagle, Colo., to make.

So, the Lakers had done what was required to push the Spurs, if just a little.

"I think everybody came here to see what Laker team was going to show up, how hard we were going to play," Bryant said. "And they got an answer."

They defended the Spurs' scorers -- Tony Parker and Tim Duncan combined for 18 points, the five Spur starters combined for 31 -- and they made their jump shots and they were more clever about finding O'Neal.

They pushed the Spurs' screen-and-roll to the sidelines, protected their lane, asked Bryant to chase the ball rather than scold him for it and dared the Spurs' jump shooters to shoot, which they did, often, and missed, often. Open at the three-point arc, the Spurs were 11 for 27 from there.

At the end of it, most of the Lakers looked back over what they had done, over a 63-point second half, over 56.9% field-goal shooting, over a defensive effort that was worthy of all of their defensive potential and beyond, perhaps, what many believed their aging legs could carry them to, and arrived at the same conclusion.

"We haven't done anything," Karl Malone said, "but climb back into the series."

In fact, Malone said, recalling his late mother, Shirley, on Mother's Day, "She would say, 'You guys haven't done anything yet.' "

That was the general sense of one win on one gold-tinged afternoon, when the Spurs matched their worst loss of the season, but maintained an advantage in the series, both in games and home floor. They braced for a desperate game from the Lakers, early on saw Hall of Famers strewn across the floor and over the scorers' table chasing loose balls, and knew then, perhaps, that a few pick-and-rolls wouldn't carry them this time.

Parker was four for 12 from the floor and Duncan was four for 14, as Bryant and Devean George left their men to trap and double-team and hound. The Spurs shot 34.1% from the field and the Lakers, forceful again on the inside, took 17 of the game's first 21 free throws.

"It's all about us," O'Neal said. "It's been all about us all year. The things that they're doing, they're not things we haven't seen before. They played well at home. They shot the ball well at home. Tony Parker had two great games at home. And now we're home. We just have to have two great games at home so we can get back into this series."

O'Neal made 11 of 13 shots and six of 11 free throws, the first time in two months he'd attempted as many as 10 free throws in a game and made more than half of them. A happy O'Neal is a passing O'Neal, so he moved the ball, and the Lakers followed along. They assisted on 11 of 12 field goals in the first quarter and 29 of 37 overall.

Facing a possible 3-0 deficit that probably would have ended all they'd hoped for -- no NBA team has come back from 3-0 -- the Lakers went to O'Neal first and he had his most complete game of the postseason. Bryant had 22 points, 15 in the first half, and made four of seven three-point shots, reclaiming an unreliable jumper. Payton had 15 points and seven assists and Malone had 13 points.

"Well," Duncan said, "they were very aggressive out of the gate. I thought they played a very good game. Guys were really stepping back into the lane and trying to get me to get rid of the ball."

Now, he said, "It's about how we respond to the loss, how we learn and adjust to what they're doing."

For the Lakers, it will be about sustaining what they started in Game 3. They led by 12 points in the first quarter, through two games a trouble spot for the Lakers, by 14 in the second and 23 in the third. By a carefree fourth quarter, the lead was 28, the bench cleared, future Hall of Famers getting standing ovations one by one.

Many of them had been there before. The Lakers won Games 3 and 4 here last year before a six-game elimination at the hands of the Spurs, and so they were largely unimpressed, other than that they had hoped to play well and, for a change, did.

They'd take the win, and they'd take it big.

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