SAN ANTONIO (AP)—The Lakers are now 3-0 against the Spurs this season, while the defending NBA champions have fallen below .500. What a difference a year makes.
Kobe Bryant made only six of his 20 shots Wednesday night, but 10 of his 21 points came in the final period as Los Angeles erased a nine-point deficit to beat San Antonio 90-86.
Last season, San Antonio swept all four regular-season matchups and eliminated Los Angeles in the playoffs.
“We buckled down and did what we’re supposed to do,” said Gary Payton, who scored 16. “We’re trying to make statements to everybody that we’re for real this year. It’s going to be hard to beat us.”
The Lakers trailed 71-62 after three quarters but made eight of their 16 shots in the fourth as their defense pressured San Antonio into seven turnovers and poor shot selection.
“In the fourth quarter, that’s when you have to lock teams down,” Bryant said. “That’s what we did.”
The Spurs managed to make only three of their 17 attempts in the final 12 minutes and stumbled to their fourth straight loss.
“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. “Our pace is too frenetic—it creates turnovers and puts pressure on the defense.”
The Spurs are now 9-10. They have not been below .500 this late in the season since 1996-97—before the team drafted Tim Duncan.
Duncan, returning from a one-game suspension for pushing a referee in Saturday’s loss at Golden State, finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds.
“I got two or three open looks down the stretch—I just wasn’t able to knock them in,” said Duncan, who missed all five of his shots in the fourth quarter.
Devean George added 18 for Los Angeles, which extended its winning streak to seven, Gary Payton had 16 and O’Neal 15. O’Neal narrowly missed a triple-double, grabbing 16 rebounds.
A 3-pointer by Tony Parker, the Spurs’ first basket of the fourth, gave San Antonio its final lead—80-78 with 5:05 left. A free throw by George and a layup by Payton put the Lakers ahead for good with 4:16 remaining.
The Spurs hit nine of their first 15 attempts from the floor to build an 18-11 lead late in the first quarter, but a pair of layups by Payton and 3-pointers from Bryant and George gave the Lakers their final lead of the half, 21-20.
A 20-8 run by San Antonio early in the second quarter stretched the advantage to 46-31. The Lakers outscored the Spurs 10-1 over the final four minutes of the half as San Antonio missed its final seven shots.
O’Neal scored his first points of the game on a dunk over Duncan with 3:23 remaining in the first half, and Payton made two more layups and a 4-footjumper to pull Los Angeles to 47-41 at the break.
After playing three times in the five weeks of the season, the Spurs and Lakers don’t meet again until April 4 at the Staples Center. … O’Neal passed David Robinson for 24th place on the NBA career scoring list with 20,792 points. … San Antonio, now 0-2 in December, has not had a losing month since January 1999, a league-best run of 32 straight months. … Payton scored his 19,000th point on a layup late in the first quarter. His six assists gave him 7,706 for his career, five shy of Rod Strickland for sixth place all-time. …The Lakers play in Dallas on Thursday in a matchup of division leaders.