SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan and David Robinson won the first big men matchup with Shaquille O'Neal.
Duncan scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs fended off a fourth-quarter threat to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 87-81 Monday night in the opening game of their best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal.
The Spurs held on despite committing nine turnovers in the final quarter.
"We expected a very competitive game. Both teams laid it all on the line," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "They are a handful and we were lucky to come out on top."
Game 2 is Wednesday night in San Antonio.
"This was a big game for us, but Game 2 is even bigger. We have to come out stronger at the start," Duncan said.
O'Neal, used to all sorts of double teams and physical play regardless of the opponent, approached referee Steve Javie from behind after the game. Lakers coach Kurt Rambis intervened and was able to keep his star center away from the official.
Both Rambis and O'Neal refused to discuss the quick confrontation.
"Nothing happened. If something happened, you all would know. Nothing happened," O'Neal said.
Asked what frustrated him most about the physical play, O'Neal snapped: "I never get frustrated."
"They played their best ball and we really didn't play that well," said O'Neal, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds. "We see that they're going to let us get physical. We have to make some adjustments and come back."
The Spurs went to the free throw line 34 times, compared with 26 times for Los Angeles.
The Lakers, trailing by nine points entering the fourth quarter, moved within 67-62 with 11 minutes left to play on a jumper by Sean Rooks.
David Robinson and Duncan then sparked a 10-2 run that gave San Antonio a 79-64 lead with 7:16 remaining. Los Angeles scored eight straight points to pull the Lakers within 79-72 with 5:15 remaining.
The Lakers moved within 82-77 on a field goal by Glen Rice with 46 seconds left, but Los Angeles could get no closer.
Kobe Bryant and Rice each had 21 points for the Lakers.
The Spurs outrebounded the Lakers 44-40 with Duncan grabbing seven rebounds and blocking six shots.
Robinson and Duncan took turns guarding fellow 7-footer O'Neal, who was 6-for-19 from the field.
"He's a big guy so I had to be determined against him," Duncan said. "I kept him in front of me, and I knew help was there if I needed it. But it was quite a challenge. But it was also kind of fun."
The Spurs went on a 14-9 run to start the third quarter and led 61-50 with 4:41 left in the period after a 15-foot jumper by Robinson.
The Spurs maintained a fairly comfortable lead the rest of the quarter and led 67-58 entering the final period as Duncan scored seven points in the third quarter. Duncan was 11-for-24 from the field with a career playoff-high in field goal attempts.
Robinson added 15 points and eight rebounds. Both he and O'Neal were 9-for-14 from the foul line.
Rambis noted that even though the Lakers made several physical and mental errors, his team still had a chance to win the game.
"We had several opportunities to score and make this a close game. If we make those shots, anything can happen," he said.
The Spurs reserves outscored the Lakers bench 17-2, which Popovich called crucial to the San Antonio victory.
"Not only did they guard and rebound, but they scored and gave us some good minutes' rest," Popovich said.
The Spurs trailed most of the first half but pulled ahead with about three minutes left in the second quarter and led 47-41 at halftime.
Los Angeles led 24-12 with 1:39 left in the first quarter. The Spurs scored the last eight points of the period capped by Jerome Kersey's 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull to 24-20.
San Antonio took the lead 35-34 with 3:10 left in the second quarter on a fast-break layup by Avery Johnson. The Spurs outscored the Lakers 27-17 in the period.
After a 6-8 start in February, the Spurs won 31 of 36 games to finish the regular season 37-13, capturing the Midwest Division title and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers defeated Houston 98-88 on Saturday to win their first-round series 3-1 and advance to the semifinals. The Spurs beat Minnesota 92-85 on Saturday to win that first-round series 3-1.
Notes: Rice, who missed the last game of the Houston series on Saturday with a sore elbow, started Monday. ... O'Neal was averaging a league-high 29.5 points in the playoffs entering Monday night's contest. ... The Lakers won their regular-season series with the Spurs 2-1. Both victories came during the Spurs' February slump. ... The Lakers and Spurs have met five times before in the playoffs. Los Angeles won the first four series and San Antonio won the 1995 Western Conference semifinals.