NBA: Bryant gets going late in Game 1 win
By John Nadel
LOS ANGELES ó Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers waited until the third quarter to get going. Once they did, the San Antonio Spurs couldnít stop them.
Bryant scored all but two of his 27 points after halftime, including a go-ahead, 10-foot jumper in the lane with 23.9 seconds remaining, and the Lakers rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat the Spurs 89-85 on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Game 2 will be played Friday night before the best-of-seven series shifts to San Antonio for the third and fourth games. The Lakers are 7-0 in the postseason at Staples Center, where theyíve won 13 straight games overall.
Bryantís jumper put the Lakers ahead for good after two free throws by Manu Ginobili with 1:22 remaining and a follow shot by Tim Duncan with 41 seconds left tied the game at 85. After Bryantís game-winner, Ginobili missed a 3-pointer and Sasha Vujacic made two free throws with 7.3 seconds to go, completing the scoring.
The Lakers outscored the Spurs 24-13 in the fourth quarter, when San Antonio shot 3-for-21, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
iWe almost gave up home-court advantage to a great effort by the Spurs,î Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. iThat was a big comeback. We were deep in the hole ó there was no doubt about it. Twenty down and half the quarter gone in the third.
iIt was a struggle to fight back into the ballgame by the end of the third quarter.î
Bryant also had five rebounds and nine assists. Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic scored 10 points apiece for the Lakers.
Duncan led the Spurs with 30 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots. Tony Parker added 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists; Bruce Bowen scored 12 points, and Ginobili added 10 for the Spurs.
Ginobili shot just 3-for-13, and Jackson credited Vujacic for his defensive work on the Spursí star.
iSasha had an assignment out there tonight and he played Ginobili very well,î Jackson said. iOffensively, Sasha had a lot better games, but defensively, that was one of his best.î
Vujacic played a career playoff-high 311/2 minutes.
iObviously a difficult loss and we had a great opportunity,î Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. iWe didnít take advantage of it. Hurts like hell.î
The well-rested Lakers hadnít played since Friday, when they beat Utah to advance to the conference finals for the first time in four years. The Spurs advanced by winning at New Orleans three nights later, but their flight to Los Angeles was delayed several hours and they didnít arrive at their hotel in suburban Santa Monica until Tuesday morning around 9 a.m.
Popovich said that had nothing to do with his teamís difficulties late in the game.
iThey probably wore us down to some degree, Iím sure,î he said. iAnd then, with that, we made very poor decisions. The ball stopped moving. Shots at the end of the clock, no penetration to the rim, all jump shots and they deserve credit for that and they came back and had a hell of a win.î
Two straight baskets by Bryant cut San Antonioís lead to three points with eight minutes remaining. Bowen made a 3-pointer with 7:38 left, but the Spurs went stone cold at that stage, going scoreless for nearly 61/2 minutes.
The Lakers took advantage, scoring 10 straight points to take their first lead of the game. Bryant put them ahead for the first time by making two foul shots with 2:42 left, and added a jumper 24 seconds later following a turnover to make it 85-81.
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