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Bill Plaschke

When they have it going like this, the coldblooded reality is clear

May 24, 2008|Bill Plaschke

Did you see how it started?

Immediately after the opening tip, Kobe Bryant jogged over and poked Bruce Bowen in the chest.

Hard.

Did you see what happened moments later?

Derek Fisher dribbled up to Tony Parker, then around him, then directly to the basket.

Hard.

Could you feel what was happening?

Looking across their little piece of the city Friday night, the Lakers saw a collection of weary, weakened San Antonio Spurs.

So they pounded them.

Bryant socked, Fisher shoved, Lamar Odom slapped, then smiling Jordan Farmar danced around the wreckage.

And, believe me, today the Spurs are a smoldering heap after the Lakers took a 101-71 victory and a two-games-to-none lead in the Western Conference finals.

The Spurs' Tim Duncan wiped his drawn face afterward and sighed.

"Everything just seemed to stack up against us," he said.

The passes-so-quick-you-can-hear-them Lakers teamwork.

The squeak-and-grind Lakers defense.

The breathless Lakers hustle.

Everything.

The Lakers ran off nine straight points to break a tie at the end of the first half, beginning with a Pau Gasol layup from a pass from the quadruple-teamed Bryant.

"I think they had some tired legs and . . . we had some open opportunities," Coach Phil Jackson said.

The Lakers then scored on their first nine possessions of the third quarter, flying where the tired Spurs stood, wowing as the uninterested Spurs just watched.

"Sometimes you have to take advantage of a team's weakness," Sasha Vujacic said.

The game was such a blowout, the giant video board gave Jack Nicholson his fourth-quarter curtain call late in that third quarter.

The Spurs were so finished, Coach Gregg Popovich benched both Manu Ginobili and Duncan for the entire fourth quarter.

For the game, Ginobili pushed off his sore ankle for only two baskets, Duncan scored only two points after halftime, and beloved old Robert Horry missed all five of his shots, including two three-point attempts.

Admit it Lakers fans, some of you were hoping he would make one just for old times' sake.

"The first game, we had rhythm," Horry said. ''Tonight, we had no rhythm."

Oh yeah, that first game, that Spurs' 20-point blown lead, remember that?

As expected, the Spurs will not be able to forget it, at least not this spring. That loss didn't only linger into this game, it lived in this game, from the tentative play of Parker to the hesitant play of San Antonio's defense.

Friday's first lesson was that the defending NBA champions are indeed both physically and emotionally vulnerable.

Friday's second lesson is that these Lakers are indeed becoming coldblooded enough to take advantage of it.

It is a trait they have not shown much before, a trait that comes only with a combination of experience and intensity.

When you have your heel on the neck of your opponent in the playoffs, you have to learn how to push.

It's called killer instinct.

It can also be called championship instinct.

Judging from Friday night, the Lakers are starting to get it, and that should start to seriously scare folks in Detroit and Boston.

"Killer instinct, that's right," Farmar said afterward. "We are starting to pick it up from Kobe, the guy who had the most killer instinct that's ever been."

Farmar looked over the heads of dozens of media members, over to Bryant's empty locker, and smiled.

"We're really trying to get that killer instinct of Kobe's, because we know that's the one thing that can help us grow into a championship team."

Besides showing that instinct with his best playoff game so far -- he missed only two of seven shots -- Farmar showed it with the highlight play of a game.

With 6:55 left in the second quarter, the Spurs' Ime Udoka was sailing downcourt on a fastbreak toward an uncontested dunk.

Farmar blocked it anyway. Blocked it off the backboard after flying over Udoka's shoulder.

"I just wanted to try to contest it," said Farmar with a smile.

That's what you do when you have killer instinct. You contest everything, even the most impossible things.

Then, if you're Jordan Farmar, you bask in the glow of the night's biggest ovation.

"Of course they cheered, I expected them to cheer," he said with a grin. "They pay all that money, they want to cheer."

Those cheers will be against the Lakers on Sunday in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 6-0 in the playoffs.

But the Lakers heard those same sounds in the league's toughest place to play, and they still clinched the semifinal series against the Jazz.

The noise won't bother them. And here's guessing the Spurs are too physically strained and mentally drained to bother them.

"Somewhere down the line here, we have to get a win," Horry said.

One win. Maybe.

--

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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