George's quick return boosts LakersPosted: Saturday May 10, 2003 8:42 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Devean George felt horrible as he sat in the X-ray room at San Antonio's SBC Center.
The pain in his left ankle was intense, but that was only a small part of it.
"I thought, `I'm done. This is it,"' George recalled Saturday.
Following a collision with San Antonio's Manu Ginobili last Monday night, George was lying on the court holding his ankle, screaming in agony.
X-rays were negative, but he had what was diagnosed as a severe sprain to put him on the sidelines for an indefinite period. That period was only 96 hours.
Somehow, George was back in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup Friday night, making like Willis Reed as he helped his team beat San Antonio 110-95 to cut the Spurs' lead to 2-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
Although there was stiffness in the ankle Saturday, George believes he'll be ready to go Sunday when the Lakers attempt to even the series. "It was like, `It's about time, he should play,"' Kobe Bryant said with a smile. "He was committed to doing his treatment around the clock. That was the key. "He played with no pressure, he played loose. He played a tremendous game." Bryant scored 39 points, but it was George who fired up the crowd -- first by returning to the starting lineup, then by making a pair of outside jumpers to give the Lakers a 4-0 lead. They were on top the rest of the way.
George scored nine of his career playoff-high 13 points in the opening nine minutes as the Lakers took a 29-12 lead.
The Spurs weren't closer than six points after that.
Reed wasn't supposed to play in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1970 because of an injured hip, but he hobbled onto the Madison Square Garden court and made two jumpers to give the Knicks a 4-0 lead. He was too sore to continue, but the inspired New York Knicks went on to beat the Lakers.
"Willis didn't score 13 points -- he only had four," Bryant said of the comparison.
George said he didn't believe he'd be able to play Friday night until earlier in the day.
On Wednesday night, as he watched Game 2 from the sidelines in San Antonio, George had no idea when he'd return.
"It was just a constant rehab, staying positive," he said. "I'm going to continue with my program all day, keep the (electronic stimulation) on it all night. "Hopefully, I'll do it again. That's my role, to provide some energy."
Much of the talk at both practices Saturday involved well-known Lakers fan Jack Nicholson, who screamed at the officials from his courtside seat in the second quarter and then went onto the court to berate Mark Wunderlich after Shaquille O'Neal was called for his third foul. "I'm glad somebody sticks up for me -- I appreciate it, Jack," O'Neal said a day later.
San Antonio's Malik Rose believes he has an answer.
"I'm going to call Billy Bob Thornton or Tommy Lee Jones, get them some courtside seats," Rose said. "Tommy Lee Jones is getting a call from me tonight.
"He fired them up. That's OK. We've got stars, too."
Rose believed the Lakers' strategy of moving O'Neal from his normal low-post spot took his team by surprise.
O'Neal had 21 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. "We really didn't expect them to move Shaq out high," Rose said. "It was a great move on Shaq's part, a mature move on his part. It worked to a T."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he played David Robinson only 15 minutes because he didn't believe the veteran center was moving well because of his knees and back.
"It's not good," Popovich said.
Robinson begged to disagree.
"I feel very good, actually," he said. "Hopefully, things will go better on Sunday."
When asked what happened, Robinson laughed as he replied: "They made shots. Making shots is always pretty effective." The Lakers shot 13-of-17 to start the game while the Spurs went 2-of-13 at the beginning.
"I was just a little disappointed with the way we responded," Robinson said. He wasn't alone.
"We didn't play well last night. We didn't give the effort we should have," said San Antonio's Bruce Bowen, who scored a career playoff-high 27 points in Game 2 and three in Game 3.
"It's the same offenses and defenses for both teams," Popovich said. "The focus of the defenses were entirely different -- theirs positive and ours negative."