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Los Angeles 86, San Antonio 80
Posted: Sunday May 05, 2002 11:02 PM
San Antonio Spurs
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LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Bloodied and bruised, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant showed the toughness of champions.

The leaders of the Los Angeles Lakers played through injuries and rallied their team to a gritty 86-80 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, who wasted a great chance to steal Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series.

O'Neal wore a pair of gold wristbands, with the right one protecting four stitches he needed following what the Lakers described as a "household incident" earlier Sunday.

"I fell on some glass playing with the kids and I needed a stitch when I came in (to the arena)," O'Neal said.

His problems were compounded early in the third quarter, when he gashed his right index finger on the rim and missed nearly a period, taking another three stitches -- and an important phone call.

"I was getting stitches and my finger was numb," O'Neal said. "I thought I wasn't going to be able to come back out and the phone rang and it was my father and he told me to get my (butt) back out there.

"He made me come back out today. My finger was numb. I had to touch a ball for a minute or so. It felt like I had four fingers, but I guess he knew what I was thinking and he called the phone right there. I don't know how he got the number."

As O'Neal returned in the fourth quarter, Bryant headed to the locker room after banging his right knee on the previous possession.

"As I tried to walk it off, the knee just kept on swelling," Bryant said. "So I had to go back into the training room, put some ice on it, to see if I could get the swelling down and to also see if I could bend it."

Bryant returned wearing a wrap around the knee with 4:36 to go as O'Neal made two free throws, giving the Lakers the lead for good at 73-71.

"I did not know what they were doing, whether they were amputating his finger or what was going on in the locker room," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We just got him back on the floor and Kobe ended up with a banged-up knee, so we tag-teamed it for a little bit and were able to survive until they both got out there."

After Derek Fisher made a 3-pointer to widen the margin to five points, O'Neal and Bryant made all the big plays down the stretch. San Antonio's Steve Smith drilled a 3-pointer, but O'Neal answered with a baby hook for a 78-74 edge with 2 1/2 minutes left.

A struggling Tim Duncan and Malik Rose made jumpers around a free throw by O'Neal, cutting the deficit to one point with 1:13 to play. Just 10 seconds later, O'Neal hammered home a lob from Robert Horry.

The Spurs had a chance to tie, but Bruce Bowen missed a wide-open 3-pointer. On the next possession, a hobbling Bryant worked his way into the lane and stopped short for the clinching jumper with 24 seconds left.

O'Neal had 23 points and 17 rebounds, overcoming 9-of-22 shooting. Bryant scored 20 points despite making a Shaq-like 4-of-10 free throws.

"We are looking to see where the gremlins are hiding," said Jackson, whose team has won 20 of its last 21 playoff games. "It was one of those very unusual days for us."

"It was a perfect opportunity for them to get a game from us today," added Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who made just 2-of-13 shots. "We didn't play well, but we hung tough." The Spurs may be wondering if they ever are going to beat the Lakers. They allowed just 13 points in the first quarter, limited Los Angeles to 39 percent shooting, led for nearly all of the opening three periods -- and still lost to the Lakers for the eighth time in the last nine meetings.

That slide includes last year's conference finals, when the Lakers swept the Spurs en route to their second straight championship.

"I don't think we played that well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We can play a lot better than we played. (But) I was real happy with the way we competed."

"We could have been sharper down the stretch," Spurs guard Antonio Daniels added. "In the fourth quarter, we had some key turnovers and missed shots, which is going to happen."

Game Two of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Los Angeles.

Duncan had 26 points, 21 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, all team highs. But he missed his first 10 shots and finished 9-of-30 from the field. San Antonio shot just 32 percent (28-of-88).

"Shots weren't falling for me," Duncan said. "I just tried to continue to be aggressive and take the shots that were there and they just weren't going down for me. I just kind of fell into a hole there."

"He had a lot of great shots," Popovich said. "They didn't go down and we would have been in better shape if they did, but you can say that about anybody who doesn't have a great night shooting."

Despite Duncan's troubles and the continued absence of injured 7-footer David Robinson -- who usually defends the massive O'Neal -- the Spurs still held a 67-63 lead after a banker by Duncan with 9:53 left.

But the MVP candidate took a seat, and the impact of his absence was immediate. O'Neal hit a lane jumper, got loose for a fast-break dunk and sank two free throws to give LA the lead.

"We were right there," Duncan said. "We held them where we wanted them. We had a chance. We just couldn't turn that corner."

Duncan was 0-of-10 in the first quarter. But O'Neal was struggling with his wrist injury and Bryant picked up two fouls, allowing San Antonio to take a 17-13 lead.

After finally making a bank shot early in the second quarter, Duncan got untracked and scored 10 points in the period. He made three straight baskets to widen the lead to 38-29 before Brian Shaw answered with a 3-pointer before halftime.

O'Neal banged his hand on the rim with 8:45 left in the third quarter and the Lakers trailing, 40-37. They rallied for a 48-46 lead without him but trailed, 61-57, entering the final period.

"We've been through every situation imaginable in basketball," O'Neal said. "We know what it takes to win games. It was one of those days for us, however, we still mustered up enough energy to win the game."

Former Spur Samaki Walker had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who held a 54-48 edge on the glass.

Smith scored 16 points, Tony Parker added 11 and Malik Rose 10 and eight boards for the Spurs. Rose often guarded O'Neal after starting center Mark Bryant quickly got into foul trouble.

 


 
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