Stud of the Night While the ending was certainly closer than he would have liked after missing a couple of shots down the stretch, Kobe Bryant (right) was there to shut down the Spurs and silence the sea of white at the AT&T Center. "He was very aggressive, too aggressive," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "I talked to him at a timeout and said, 'You gotta let the game come to you.'" Bryant (28 points and 10 rebounds) heeded Jackon's instructions momentarily but returned to his aggressive nature in the second half, scoring 16 points. "In the fourth quarter when I checked back in, I think it was a two-point game," said Bryant, who had six points in the final period. "I knew I had to get something going and knock down a couple shots to give us a little more confidence."
Dud of the Night It didn't take Manu Ginobili long to revert back to the player who couldn't throw a basketball into the Pacific during the first two games in Los Angeles. After recovering from his forgettable 5-of-21 start to the series to score a game-high 30 points in Game 3, Ginobili came back and scored just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting Tuesday, missing his first five shots and going scoreless in the first half (he scored 22 in the first half of Game 3). The biggest difference between Games 3 and 4 was that Bryant, not Sasha Vujacic, was guarding Ginobili the majority of the game. "If we were going to die with him shooting, I wanted to make sure he was shooting in my face," said Bryant. "I can sleep a little better at night with that."
Under the Radar Brent Barry was the only Spurs weapon off the bench for much of the game. In fact, until Ginobili hit a shot with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, no other Spurs reserve had made a basket. Barry, meanwhile, finished with 23 points, including five three-pointers, and kept the Spurs in the game as Ginobili once again proved to be a non-factor. "We wouldn't have had a chance to win if it wasn't for Brent," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. "He was great. Not just because he he made some shots, but he played a good floor game. He was fantastic."
Under the Radar, Part II Jackson admits he never knows what he's going to get from Vladimir Radmanovic. He's called the Serbian forward a "space cadet" and his "favorite martian" this season and has repeatedly advised him to see a psychologist to no avail because, as he told him, "No one has been able to do anything with your head for a while. Something is wrong with it." Well, Radmanovic's head was in the right place early on for the Lakers, as he scored 11 points -- all in the first half -- while knocking down 5-of-7 shots, including a three-pointer that helped the Lakers go up by as many as 14 points.
Turning Point The Lakers wish the turning point would have been when Lamar Odom hit two free throws with 56 seconds left for a relatively comfortable 93-86 lead. But the game came down to the final seconds, and the Lakers survived only after the officials swallowed their whistles. On the Spurs' last possession, Derek Fisher got away with some contact on Barry behind the three-point line. Barry missed a desperation shot as time expired, and the Lakers held on to win 93-91. "That was an interesting conclusion to the game," said Jackson, with a smile.
Courtside Confidential The answer to how the Spurs have been able to consistently remain one of the league's best teams sits to the right of Tim Duncan's locker. It's a framed quote translated in the four languages that represent the Spurs' players -- French, Spanish, Serbian and Turkish. The quote is from 19th century social reformer Jacob Riis and it says:
"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
The quote has served as the team's motto since Popovich took over as head coach in 1996 and is still read before every game by Duncan and his teammates. "It's about the journey," said Duncan. "It's about beating on that rock and learning things along the way."
Stat of the Night While the Lakers lived on the foul line during their series with the Jazz, they have found it hard to get to the charity stripe against the Spurs. On Tuesday, the Spurs hit 24-of-26 free throws compared to 14-of-19 for the Lakers. Most amazingly was that Bryant did not attempt one free throw and has only attempted one, which he missed, in the last two games. Bryant said before the game that the Spurs make a concerted effort not to foul him, unlike other teams that try to make him earn his points from the line if he's in a groove. "I guess he's sort of correct," said Popovich. "I mean, we don't want to foul him. We don't want to foul anybody. I mean, Kobe at the free-throw line 10 or 15 times is a devastating thing."
Looking Ahead The Lakers got what they wanted from their trip to San Antonio -- a split with the chance to close out the series on Thursday at Staples Center. It was easier said than done, as the Spurs had won 13 straight playoff games and were 7-0 during this postseason at the AT&T Center. But as Bryant said after Game 3, this Lakers squad -- which closed out its last two series on the road -- has grown up. "Just focus on one game," said Bryant. "We have been doing a good job of that all year, just focusing on one game."
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