The Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs . . . sort of.
The scoreboard confirmed a 102-97 victory, which the Lakers will obviously take, although there were some key pieces missing Thursday at Staples Center -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Lakers' killer instinct.
With Duncan and Parker sidelined because of sprained ankles, the Lakers pretty much sat out the first three quarters and sputtered in too many areas to count, including anger management.
But they owned the fourth quarter after trailing when it began, 74-72, turning a well-rounded effort in the final 12 minutes into a fourth consecutive victory.
Kobe Bryant had 30 points, but the point totals were everywhere when it mattered most. The score was tied, 81-81, with 8:30 to play, and then the Lakers pulled away with a 16-5 run.
Vladimir Radmanovic had a layup and a three-pointer, Bryant followed with a layup of his own, Jordan Farmar made a three-point shot and Bryant matched it on the next trip down.
"You have to find a way to win a game like this," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They can get ugly, it can get scrappy. We just had to find a combination of guys to go out there and play ball."
They needed to do that after Andrew Bynum was ejected.
Bynum was hit with two technical fouls for arguing a charging call with 4:32 left in the third quarter. Teammates had to restrain him from moving toward referee James Capers. Bynum, who had six points and 11 rebounds, continued to argue the point with Capers while leaving the court.
"They undercut him a couple times," Jackson said. "There's a couple things that took his legs out from underneath him and made him feel very uncomfortable. It's a good lesson. Learn that you've got to maintain your character, your poise and that you're needed by your basketball club right now."
Added Bryant: "He lost his cool for a sec and got tossed."
Then Bryant smiled. "Andrew should be proud of himself," he said. "First ejection. He went out in style."
Bynum was gone, and Derek Fisher soon joined him in the locker room after bruising his left knee while trying to deny Manu Ginobili the ball. Fisher later returned.
Some of the charm in beating the Spurs had to be diffused because Duncan and Parker sat out. Not to mention that Golden State defeated the Spurs without Duncan, 96-84, on Tuesday.
Still, Jackson was worried beforehand because of the Lakers' poor effort two weeks ago when Utah played without Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. The Lakers were drilled that night, 120-96, a main reason someone had written "Remember Energy Solutions" on the locker-room whiteboard before the game. Utah plays at Energy Solutions Arena.
The Lakers had only four points midway through the first quarter, the lone highlight for their fans coming when Robert Horry checked into the game for the Spurs. (He received a pleasant ovation.) The Spurs led at the end of the first quarter, 19-18.
Earlier in the day, the Spurs sent Lakers officials an e-mail saying Duncan and Parker would both be out. Parker was later put on the active list, which raised a few eyebrows in the Lakers' locker room, even though he did not play.
The Spurs went with a starting lineup of Jacque Vaughn, Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen and Ginobili.
It's not Lakers-Celtics of the 1980s, but the Lakers and Spurs have taken turns lobbing barbs over the years. Jackson was a catalyst a few years ago when he dismissed San Antonio as a land of conventioneers and tourists, but Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich might have had the best line when he compared the breakup of the Lakers in 2004 to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Jackson, though, has had his share of zingers over the years, referring to Bowen as "Edward Scissorhands" because of his allegedly rough defense and, more recently, saying Ginobili travels every time he drives to the basket, a so-called "European walk."