"Kobe, he was doing a trust-his-teammates thing in the first half," Popovich said. "He was checking it all out and seeing where his territory was going to be. In the second half, he went to work."
With just two points on 1-for-3 shooting at halftime, Bryant finished with 27 points Wednesday night to rally Los Angeles to an 89-85 victory over San Antonio in the opening game of the Western Conference finals.
"I just tried to see the flow of the game, tried to manage the game," Bryant said of the first two quarters. "... I know I can make that push, and I knew once I did, I could get the game back under control, get it under 10 where we knew we could be in striking distance."
The Lakers had trailed 65-45 early in the third quarter.
Bryant went 10-for-18 in the second half, including a 10-foot jumper for an 87-85 lead with 24 seconds left. He finished with nine assists and five rebounds.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who will try to make it two in a row over the defending NBA champions when the series resumes tonight at Staples Center.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 30 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots. Tony Parker had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The Spurs went stone cold in the fourth quarter, going 3-for-21, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range as they were outscored 24-13. Manu Ginobili missed all three of his shots in the fourth, finished the game 3-for-13, and had 10 points.
"They started hitting some shots, all the obvious stuff, and we continued to attack, but we couldn't get anything to fall at that point," Duncan said. "Obviously, they're a very good team in the fourth quarter, especially with Kobe."
Asked if it was an especially tough loss because of wasting the big lead, Duncan said, "You have to win four games, so losses are losses. ... We have to come out next game and get that one."
The Lakers are 7-0 at home in the playoffs and have won 13 games in a row at Staples Center.