LA LAKERS 110, SAN ANTONIO 95 -----------------------------
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Devean George led a hot start and Kobe Bryant fueled a dominant finish.
George scored nine points in the first quarter and Bryant scored 14 of his 39 points in the fourth as the Los Angeles Lakers got off to a quick start and rolled to a 110-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of their Western Conference semifinal.
After severely spraining his left ankle in Game One and missing Game Two, George was expected to come off the bench in a limited capacity in this one. But he was inserted into the starting lineup at the last minute and sparked Los Angeles, which pulled within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
"He came into my office about 25 minutes before the game and said he was OK to play," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I told him if he warmed up all right, we would let him play."
"I had to block it out and play through it," George said. "Hopefully it was a boost for everybody to see that I was just trying to grind it out in an important game."
George opened the game with consecutive jumpers and buried a 3-pointer with 5:20 remaining as the Lakers jumped out to a 19-4 lead.
"It was Willis Reed-like," Bryant said. "Devean came in and played extremely well, played with a lot of heart. The ankle was bothering him. He sprained it really badly and for him to come out and play with the intensity that he played with, I think it is big for him to know he can do that in this type of situation."
George buried a jumper with 3:09 remaining and Bryant made a layup before Shaquille O'Neal sank consecutive shots for a 29-12 cushion with 77 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Los Angeles closed the first half with a 14-6 run, led by 14 at the break and never were threatened in the second half.
Bryant scored nine points in the third quarter and scored the first 10 for the Lakers in the fourth. Los Angeles opened the final period with a 12-2 run and had a 93-69 cushion after Mark Madsen made a layup off a pass from Bryant.
O'Neal fell just shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists as the Lakers beat the Spurs for the first time in seven tries this season.
"I was instructed to get everybody involved, so they threw it to me in the post and we tried something different," he said. "This was a must win game for us."
Derek Fisher scored 14 points and George finished with 13 for Los Angeles, which shot 51 percent (36-of-71) from the floor to overcome 18 turnovers.
Robert Horry collected 13 points and 12 rebounds as the Lakers held a 46-36 advantage on the glass.
Bryant made 15-of-17 free throws as Los Angeles, which complained about the officiating in Games One and Two, attempted 16 more free throws than San Antonio.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan had 28 points and 11 assists but got little help as the rest of the Spurs starters combined for just 18 points on 6-of-30 shooting.
"They jumped on us early," Duncan said. "They were good and we got knocked on our heels. They were great tonight, they came out of the gates with a lot of energy and emotion."
San Antonio bounced back from the disastrous first quarter and pulled within 36-30 on a jumper by Stephen Jackson, who scored six of his nine points in the second quarter.
"I thought we did a pretty decent job of sustaining them after they made that run," Duncan said. "We made one or two attempts to get back in the game but never got over the hump."
Fisher answered with a 3-pointer as the Lakers scored 14 of the next 20 points despite playing without O'Neal, who was sitting on the bench with his third foul. The Lakers made 9-of-11 free throws in the final 4:47 to take a 50-36 lead at the half.