LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The clash of titans in the West is a fraud.
Merciless mismatch is more like it.
With a 111-72 rout of the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers erased any doubt that they could become the first NBA team to sweep its way through the playoffs.
Led by the superstar duo that has gone from a family feud to an
incomparable on-court partnership, the defending champions have won
18 in a row, 10 this postseason.
"We're in a flow," Kobe Bryant said. "It's togetherness,
playing as a team. We support one another on the court no matter
what's going on."
Shaquille O'Neal had 35 points and 17 rebounds, while Bryant had
36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as the Lakers
embarrassed a Spurs team that compiled the best record in the NBA
regular season, only to be dominated by Los Angeles.
"My guys played beautiful, once again," O'Neal said.
The Lakers lead the Western Conference finals 3-0 and can
complete a sweep with a homecourt victory on Sunday.
The only remaining drama is whether anyone can beat Los Angeles, even once.
Los Angeles' 10-0 run is the best start in the playoffs since
the 1989 Lakers went 11-0, only to lose Magic Johnson and Byron
Scott to injuries and be swept by Detroit in the NBA Finals.
It might take that kind of calamity to slow these Lakers.
No team has come back from being down 3-0 to win a series, and the others who tried were playing mere mortals, not a Los Angeles team that is improving each time it takes the court.
"Last year, we weren't as ruthless with opponents as we are this year," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "This is the way we thought this team could be."
David Robinson tried to keep San Antonio close with a 24-point
performance, but Tim Duncan, after scoring a career playoff-high 40
in Game 2, was just 3-for-14 from the field and scored nine points.
Antonio Daniels scored 17 points for the Spurs, who suffered their
worst loss of the season.
"They're playing very, very well," Robinson said of the Lakers. "It was a total dismantling of our team. Wow. It was a bad one. ... That never happens. It's not supposed to happen in a game like this."
Derek Fisher scored 13 points and Fox had 11 for Los Angeles.
The Lakers ended any doubt with a devastating 37-12 blitz over
the final 8½ minutes of the third quarter and first 6½ minutes of
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he thinks his team may have stopped believing it can beat the Lakers.
"It made me wonder if we believe as a group if we have enough
juice," Popovich said.
Daniels' two free throws made it 61-54 with 8:39 left in the third. Before the Spurs knew what hit them, it was 98-66.
"They looked tired," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "They looked fatigued from the game, from the energy of the game,
and we were able to ride that spurt from the third quarter."
Bryant scored from all angles. O'Neal bulled his way to baskets inside. Bryant opened the final quarter with a two-handed reverse stuff on a drive to the basket.
It was showtime again.
Despite shooting just 29 percent in the second quarter and
without O'Neal for the final 3:08 of the half, the Lakers still led
54-44 at the break.
With its offense sputtering, Los Angeles relied on a tough defense that, combined with more poor outside shooting from the Spurs, held San Antonio to 37 percent shooting in the first half (16-for-43).
Derek Anderson, who had been out for 20 days after dislocating
his right shoulder in Game 1 of the second-round series with
Dallas, was back in Spurs' starting lineup, replacing
Danny Ferry. But Anderson wasn't even close on seven shots in 22
O'Neal, who shot just 8-for-21 in Game 2 and was criticized by coach Phil Jackson for a lack of energy, made his first five shots and was 7-for-8 and scored 15 in the first quarter as the Lakers took a 34-21 lead.
Los Angeles had one of its worst offensive quarters of the
playoffs in the second, making just seven of 24 shots.
Still, the Spurs, whose shooting woes continued with 37 percent
marksmanship in the first half, couldn't pull even.
O'Neal went to the bench with his third foul with 3:08 to play
in the first half. Daniels made two free throws with 2:59 remaining
to cut the lead to 49-44. But the Shaq-less Lakers scored the final
five points of the half, three by Bryant on a stuff and one of two
free throws, to lead 54-44.
|Kobe Bryant scores some style points to go along with his 36 real points.|
Fisher was 9-for-10 on 3-pointers in the series before he
missed two in a row. ... The Spurs were 1-for-12 on 3-pointers,
leaving them 10-for-43 in the series. They had shot 42 percent in
the playoffs going into the series, and 41 percent in the regular
season. ... Anderson's first shot was blocked by Robert Horry and
led to a layup by Bryant. ... The Lakers' closest game in the
playoffs is a three-point victory over Sacramento in the first game
of the second round (108-105). ... The 1983 Philadelphia 76ers had
the NBA's best playoff record at 12-1.
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