Lakers put Spurs on ropes
By: BY ELIZABETH WHITE, Associated Press Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Even though his Los Angeles Lakers are one win away from the NBA finals, Kobe Bryant knows of a reason to remain wary of the San Antonio Spurs. “They’re the defending champs,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat the Spurs 93-91 Tuesday night in Game 4 to take command of the Western Conference finals. Still, winning three straight is a tall order even for the Spurs, and they know it. “We had a hill to climb being 0-2. Now we’ve got Everest to climb being down 3-1,” said Brent Barry, who had 23 points for the Spurs off the bench and launched a last-second 3 that would have given San Antonio the win if it had gone in. It was the first loss in eight games for the Spurs at home this postseason and they face elimination when they play Game 5 in Los Angeles on Thursday. “Just focus on one game,” Bryant said of the Lakers’ mind-set for Game 5. “We have been doing a good job of that all year.” The Lakers were last in the finals in 2004 when they lost to Detroit in five games. Bryant led the Lakers with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Lamar Odom, who was upset with his Game 3 performance, scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and Pau Gasol had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Vladimir Radmanovic added 11 points. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 29 points and 17 rebounds and Tony Parker scored 23 points and had nine assists. The Spurs brushed off talk that Barry was fouled on the play by Lakers guard Derek Fisher. “If I was the official I wouldn’t have called that a foul,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. Fisher said he “never thought they would blow a whistle.” “I felt like both of my arms were down,” Fisher said. “I didn’t really initiate any contact.” The Lakers opened the game on a 22-8 run and never trailed. The Spurs, who tied the game five times, got to 81-79 in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers scored seven straight points. With the Lakers up 93-86 and 50 seconds to play, Gasol missed two free throws. “I was a little upset,” Gasol said. “I think I lost my focus a little bit. I relaxed, then they made a couple of big buckets. You just can’t relax until the game is over, especially against a really good team.” Manu Ginobili, who struggled all night, hit a 3-pointer to bring the Spurs within four. After a miss by Bryant, Parker scored on a fast break when Odom was called for goaltending, bringing the Spurs to 93-91 with 28 seconds to play. Fisher missed a shot for Los Angeles but the ball went out of bounds and remained in the Lakers’ possession with 2 seconds on the shot clock. Bryant missed a jumper and the Spurs had 2.1 seconds left. When Barry’s 3 missed, Bryant pumped his fists in the air and the Lakers were headed home in command of the series. “Obviously we’re in a hole and it’s 3-1,” Duncan said. “It’s one loss and an elimination, but we really feel that if we clean a lot of this stuff up we have an opportunity to get right back in this series.” The Lakers were up 77-70 heading into the fourth quarter. Barry’s 3 brought the Spurs to 77-75 and his running jumper got them to 79-77. Odom’s dunk started the 7-0 run, then his layup balanced on the rim before falling in, and he hit a free throw for a three-point play. Bryant stole the ball for a slam to put the Lakers up 88-79 with 3:29 to play. Parker got the Spurs within five, then Odom hit two free throws to put the Lakers back up by seven with just under a minute to play. Los Angeles came out with energy and took advantage of sloppy play by the Spurs to lead by as many as 14 points in the first quarter. The Lakers dominated the offensive glass, racking up 20 second-chance points in the first half off 11 offensive rebounds. Odom highlighted the Lakers’ aggressiveness. Early in the first quarter he missed a shot, then suddenly appeared under the basket to grab the rebound and was fouled, making both free throws. San Antonio pulled to 28-23 at the end of the opening period. In the second quarter the Lakers got into foul trouble and San Antonio made the most of it at the free throw line. The Spurs were 17-of-17 in the first half as Odom, Fisher and reserves Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic all picked up their third fouls. Duncan’s jumper tied the game at 45 with 2:10 left in the half. After Luke Walton missed a free throw and a chance for a three-point play with 23 seconds left, Radmanovic chased down the ball and Bryant converted to give the Lakers a 53-47 halftime lead. It was more of the same in the third. The Spurs tied it twice but never took a lead. Tied at 67, Bryant took the long pass from Odom and dunked the ball with flash and flair, drawing resounding boos from the crowd. Another dunk by Bryant made it 73-70 before Vujacic was fouled hitting a 3-pointer from the corner. He made the free throw to give Los Angeles a 77-70 lead with one quarter to go. Notes: Ginobili got his first points of the game with 1:32 left in the third quarter on two free throws. He finished with seven points, 23 less than he had in Game 3. … The Lakers outrebounded the Spurs 46-37 and finished with a 26-4 advantage on second-chance points. … Bryant didn’t get to the free throw line.