Not even a hard-fought loss against a longtime rival did little to brighten the mood of one of the more tumultuous seasons in the storied history of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tony Parker scored 24 points and the San Antonio Spurs handed the slumping Lakers their fifth straight loss with a 108-105 victory Wednesday night.
Manu Ginobili added 19 points and Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson had 14 each for San Antonio (28-10), which has won 11 straight at home. Splitter also had a career-high 14 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant had 27 points, Metta World Peace added 23 and Earl Clark 22 for Los Angeles (15-20). Bryant was 10 for 24 from the field, missing a 3-pointer on his final attempt that would have tied the game. Clark missed a follow-up 3 off a long rebound.
What can the Lakers take from such a battle?
”We lost five in a row,” Bryant said. ”It’s pretty self-explanatory.”
Coming off a 125-112 loss at Houston on Tuesday, the Lakers fought until the final buzzer.
Bryant’s 3-pointer pulled Los Angeles to 105-99 with 3:32 remaining. The 3 led to dueling cries of support between a large contingent of Lakers fans seated near the Los Angeles bench and Spurs fans.
Did the effort give Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni reason to smile?
”No, not really,” he said. ”I’m proud of their effort. They fought. They fought last night against Houston. You can see the team getting some traction, but we’re a long ways away from a smile.”
Antawn Jamison’s layup pulled the Lakers to 105-102 following a timeout, but Artest missed a layup and 3-pointer on consecutive possessions.
Ginobili hit a 3-pointer that gave the Spurs a six-point lead, but Clark responded with his own 3 to close to 108-105, setting up Bryant’s final attempt.
The Spurs missed five shots and had four turnovers in the final 5 minutes, turning a 10-point lead into a nail-biting finish for the sell-out crowd.
”We kind of stopped,” Ginobili said. ”We need rhythm this year. We are getting used to playing faster and we just didn’t do it. We were playing one-on-one instead of doing what we do best and that’s to penetrate, kick and pass the ball.”
Even with Lakers big men Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out with injuries, the Spurs managed only a 48-40 rebounding advantage. Los Angeles forced 19 turnovers to keep the game close throughout.
Parker’s 17-foot jumper gave the Spurs their largest lead at 83-66, but the Lakers quickly pared the 17-point deficit. Artest hit a 3, Bryant made a pair of jumpers and Clark had a 21-foot jumper to pull the Lakers to 83-75 with 49.3 seconds left in the third.
”The closer it gets, the easier it is to focus and be ready,” Ginobili said. ”Of course, you worry because we were up by 16 and we just messed up the whole game. Like I said before, it was disappointing to see the team play like that, but at least we got the win.”
Bryant had a sluggish start offensively and the Lakers fell behind 54-45 at the half.
His first basket came with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter and he closed the half 2 for 6 from the field. Bryant credited his poor shooting to Spurs second-year player Kawhi Leonard.
”It was Kawhi’s defense,” Bryant said. ”He did a good job.”
Leonard finished with 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 33 minutes while primarily guarding Bryant and World Peace.
”Kawhi Leonard was the start of the show as far as I’m concerned,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”He had a great night and is getting better and better defensively and starting to find his way offensively. I thought that was great.”
Notes: Lakers G Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) missed his 28th game of the season. Howard (shoulder), Gasol (concussion) and Hill (hip) also sat out the game. The Spurs had every player on their current roster active. … The Lakers haven’t lost five in a row since April 3-10, 2011. … The Lakers are 1-12 when trailing after the first quarter this season. … The Spurs evened their overall record against the Lakers at 74-all. San Antonio has a 46-29 advantage at home. … Bryant holds the Spurs opponent record for most field goal attempts – 41 on Feb. 14, 2004.