Kobe picks Lakers up, Spurs apart
By: By KEN PETERS, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knew the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was just biding his time.
“Kobe, he was doing a trust-his-teammates thing in the first half,” Popovich said. “He was checking it all out and seeing where his territory was going to be. In the second half, he went to work.”
With just two points on 1-of-3 shooting at halftime, Bryant scored 27 in the second Wednesday night to rally Los Angeles to an 89-85 victory over San Antonio in the opening game of the Western Conference finals.
“I just tried to see the flow of the game, tried to manage the game,” Bryant said of the first two quarters. “I can get it off any time, and in the second half, I did that.
“I know I can make that push and I knew once I did, I could get the game back under control, get it under 10 where we knew we could be in striking distance,” he added.
The Lakers had trailed 65-45 early in the third quarter.
Bryant went 10-of-18 in the second half, including a 10-foot jumper for an 87-85 lead with 24 seconds left. He finished with nine assists and five rebounds.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who will try to make it two in a row over the defending NBA champions when the series resumes Friday night at Staples Center.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 30 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots. Tony Parker had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The Spurs went stone cold in the fourth quarter, going 3-of-21, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range as they were outscored 24-13. Manu Ginobili missed all three of his shots in the fourth, finished the game 3-of-13 and had 10 points.
“They started hitting some shots, all the obvious stuff, and we continued to attack but we couldn’t get anything to fall at that point,” Duncan said. “Obviously, they’re a very good team in the fourth quarter, especially with Kobe.”
Asked if it was an especially tough loss because of wasting the big lead, Duncan said, “You have to win four games, so losses are losses. Obviously, we were up 20 and we hoped to put that one away and put them on their heels, but we didn’t. We have to recover. We have to come out next game and get that one.”
Popovich, asked if he was worried about any carryover to Game 2, smiled and said, “Well, sure. Coaches worry about everything. We’ve got to dig down deep, forget about this and figure out a way to come back just as aggressively as we (played) the first three quarters.”
The Lakers are 7-0 at home this postseason.
Bryant made his go-ahead jumper after two free throws by Ginobili with 1:22 remaining and a follow shot by Duncan with 41 seconds left tied it at 85. After Bryant’s basket, Ginobili missed a 3-pointer and the Lakers’ Sasha Vujacic made two free throws with 7.3 seconds.
“We almost gave up home-court advantage to a great effort by the Spurs,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “That was a big comeback. We were deep in the hole, there was no doubt about it. Twenty down and half the quarter gone in the third period. It was a struggle to fight back into the ballgame by the end of the third quarter.”
The Lakers hadn’t played since Friday, when they beat Utah to make the conference finals for the first time in four years. The Spurs advanced by winning at New Orleans three nights later, and their flight from Louisiana to Los Angeles was delayed several hours, so they didn’t arrive at their hotel in suburban Santa Monica until Tuesday morning around 9 a.m.
Still, they insisted fatigue was no factor in the loss.
“No one gives any excuse,” Parker said. “We were in pretty good shape, had a great lead. We had a great chance to win the game and we just didn’t play well enough in the fourth quarter.”
Consecutive baskets by Bryant cut San Antonio’s lead to three points with eight minutes remaining. San Antonio’s Bruce Bowen made a 3-pointer with 7:38 left, but the Spurs didn’t score again for almost 6 1/2 minutes.
The Lakers scored 10 in a row to take a four-point lead. Bryant gave them their first lead of the game by making two free throws with 2:42 left, and added a jumper 24 seconds later to make it 85-81.
The Spurs outscored the Lakers 14-2 to start the third quarter to open the 20-point bulge. But the Lakers then ran off a 14-0 string over a 3:05 span to narrow the gap to six, with Bryant leading the way with seven points and two assists.
Notes: The Lakers have beaten the Spurs in seven of their previous 10 postseason matchups, including all three in the conference finals. … The teams are meeting in the playoffs for the sixth time since 1999, but the first since 2004, when the Lakers prevailed in six games in the conference semifinals. The Lakers didn’t win a postseason series from 2005-07.