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Bill Plaschke

This victory feels like a series-clincher

May 22, 2008|Bill Plaschke

In the end, when the unimaginable blinked on the scoreboard, when the unthinkable danced on the hardwood, the cheers even drowned out Randy Newman.

All but three words.

"We love it!" the too-cool Staples Center fans giddily chanted with their victory song. "We love it! We love it! We love it!"

Oh, will the Lakers forever love this one.

Man, will the Spurs forever loathe it.

It was just one game, just Game 1, just a beginning.

It felt like seven games, Game 7, an ending.

The Lakers didn't just come back from a 20-point deficit to steal an 89-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals opener Wednesday.

They turned basketball's smartest crunch-time team into dummies.

They turned basketball's toughest veterans into twitching rookies.

They stole a victory from a team that was doing everything right, and they stole it after doing everything wrong.

In the end, after another Spur had bricked and another Laker had dived and wonderful spring chaos had once again returned to 11th and Figueroa, both locker rooms were quiet.

The Spurs, because they were trying to leave.

"We're supposed to be smarter than this," said Robert Horry, rushing into the hallway.

The Lakers, because they were trying not to laugh.

"I would think a loss like this might take a little bit out of their sails," said Jordan Farmar, dressing slowly.

The last time the Lakers pulled off a playoff comeback this large, they needed Horry to win it with that infamous last-second shot against Sacramento in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

You know what happened next.

The last time the Spurs blew this sort of lead and lost this sort of close game under this sort of pressure was, well, almost never.

You can almost guess what will happen next.

The weary champions have a 20-point lead on the court of the young team, and hold that team to under 90 points . . . and still lose?

The aging champions have a chance to throw a huge first punch on the road against a team that played with rust and dust . . . and they miss?

"Obviously we were up 20 and we hoped to put that one away and put them on their heels, but we didn't," said Tim Duncan, shaking his head. "We have to recover."

Recover? How do you recover from something such as this?

The answer is, you probably can't.

The Lakers may have won this series by winning a game in which their best player and league MVP made one basket in three shots -- three -- in the first half.

"Just tried to read the flow of the game," said Kobe Bryant.

Well, um, Kobe, can you maybe read it a little closer next time? Maybe turn on a light and read the part where it says, "Dude, you have to score for the Lakers to win!"

"I can get it off any time, and in the second half, I did that," said Bryant, who indeed scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and gave the Lakers the lead with two free throws and a hanging jump shot.

The Lakers also may have won this series by winning a game in which their point guard Derek Fisher had zero assists and one basket, and their big man Pau Gasol had no offensive rebounds, and Sasha Vujacic was more clutch than any of them.

"There is no script to an NBA basketball game," said Fisher. "You just go out and play as hard as you can."

Lamar Odom put it another way.

"We scrapped," he said. "We just scrapped."

The Lakers scrapped at the Spurs until they missed 18 of 21 shots in the fourth quarter.

Fisher stopped being beaten by Tony Parker. Gasol stopped being dominated by Duncan. Bryant's arms and legs stopped everyone else.

"We just kind of stopped," acknowledged the Spurs' Manu Ginobili. "I don't know if it was our legs or if it was our heads."

The Lakers then scrapped at their own pride until they stopped doing silly things, committing just one turnover in the final quarter while clearing out for Bryant to be the usual hero.

"It was crazy," said Luke Walton. "Especially to do that against the Spurs, that's impressive."

In the final seconds of the game, there was a pile of Lakers on the floor, Odom grabbing Ginobili and Sasha Vujacic grabbing the ball for the clinching free throws.

"Heart," said Vujacic. "I think we have a big heart."

In the final moments of the night, there were piles of untouched food on a table in the Spurs' locker room, pizza and sandwiches abandoned by a team that had lost its stomach.

To a team that had taken a huge step toward finding its soul.

"Winning a championship is not easy, it doesn't come to those who just wait for it, and tonight was an example," said Fisher. "We went out and we won the game."

You ask me, they won a lot more than that.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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