Originally created 05/06/02

Lakers 86, Spurs 80



LOS ANGELES -- Even with their superstars spending time in the locker room being treated for second-half injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers had enough to beat the San Antonio Spurs.

Again.

Shaquille O'Neal scored 13 of his 23 points after returning early in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds as the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers continued their mastery over the Spurs with an 86-80 victory Sunday to open their Western Conference semifinal series.

O'Neal missed nearly 10 minutes after sustaining a cut on his right index finger early in the third quarter which required three stitches to close.

It was a tough day for O'Neal, who needed four stitches to close a cut above his left wrist suffered in a household accident earlier in the day.

When he returned with 10:50 to play, the Spurs led 64-61.

Just as O'Neal came back, Kobe Bryant left after bruising his right knee in a collision with San Antonio's Bruce Bowen.

Bryant returned with 4:36 left, just as O'Neal made two free throws to snap a 71-all tie and put the Lakers ahead for good.

A 3-pointer by Derek Fisher made it 76-71 lead with 3:56 remaining, but Steve Smith's 3-pointer got the Spurs within two.

Malik Rose's jumper with 1:13 to play cut the Lakers' lead to 79-78, but a dunk by O'Neal with 1:03 left and a jumper by Bryant with 24.6 seconds to go clinched the victory.

At that stage, during a San Antonio timeout, the capacity crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center loudly chanted, "Three-peat, three-peat."

Bryant finished with 20 points and Samaki Walker, a former Spur, had 12 points and nine rebounds.

Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 26 points and 21 rebounds despite missing his first 10 shots. Steve Smith added 16 points, Tony Parker 11 and Malik Rose had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Game 2 will be played Tuesday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series moves to San Antonio for the third and fourth games.

The win was the 20th in 21 playoff games for the Lakers beginning with the sixth game of the 2000 NBA Finals, and extended their winning streak at Staples Center to 18 games - 15 to finish the regular season and three in the playoffs.

The Spurs, playing without David Robinson, are trying to avenge the humiliating sweep at the hands of the Lakers in the conference finals last spring, when they were outscored by 89 points in four games.

It's unknown when Robinson, who has a nerve problem in his lower back from a herniated disc that affects his right leg, will return. He played only seven minutes in San Antonio's first-round series against Seattle.

Duncan made three straight baskets to give the Spurs a 38-29 lead, and it was 38-32 at halftime thanks to Brian Shaw's 3-pointer - the Lakers' first after six misses.

Los Angeles shot 32-of-72 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range while sweeping the Spurs last spring. They were 5-of-21 in this game.

Despite the absence of Robinson, the Spurs came out playing terrific defense, limiting Los Angeles to three baskets in the first 10 minutes - all dunks by O'Neal - in taking a 17-7 lead.

With O'Neal on the bench, the Lakers scored the last six points of the first period on two baskets by Walker and two free throws by Shaw.

Notes: The 32 first-half points were a season-low for the Lakers. ... Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said there's nothing doctors can do about Robinson's health. "Playing with pain is no problem for this guy, the leg is just not working," Popovich said. "The nerve is going to heal on its own time." ... Robinson was on the court shooting jumpers nearly two hours before the game began, but it had already been decided that he wouldn't play. ... The Spurs entered having lost seven of eight games to the Lakers - four in the sweep last spring and three of four this season. Before that, they beat the Lakers nine times in 12 games beginning with a four-game sweep in the conference semifinals in 1999. They went from there to win their only NBA championship.