LOS ANGELES (AP)—Playing basketball is a form of therapy for Kobe Bryant, especially after a day in court.
It’s obviously doing wonders for his psyche.
And for the Los Angeles Lakers.
After spending most of the last two days in a Colorado courtroom, Bryant scored 15 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, leading the Lakers to a 98-90 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to even the Western Conference semifinals 2-2.
Shaquille O’Neal added 28 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, who won by outscoring the Spurs 55-37 after halftime.
As dominant as O’Neal was for a second straight game, Bryant was the story.
“I don’t see how he does it,” O’Neal said. “He’s a fabulous player, probably the best player that ever played the game, especially with all the stuff he’s been going through. And it was a fabulous night for him, a memorable night.”
Game 5 in the best-of-seven series will be Thursday night in San Antonio, and Game 6 is Saturday night at Staples Center.
Bryant pleaded not guilty to his sexual assault charge in Eagle, Colo., on Tuesday afternoon, and arrived in plenty of time for the game and got in about an hour of sleep.
It was the fourth time he played a game following a day in court, including once in the Lakers’ first-round series against Houston.
Bryant starred and his team won every time.
“It’s very draining,” he said of the process. “It feels good to step out on that basketball court, get up and down, compete. It is kind of like a psychiatrist, it takes your mind away from so many things.”
Bryant shot 15-of-27, made 10 of 13 foul shots and added six rebounds and five assists.
“I can’t say that I have,” Bryant replied when asked if he had ever had a better playoff game.
“Kobe was phenomenal in that second half,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
“It was unbelievable,” teammate Karl Malone said of Bryant’s performance. “I have said it before, for what a young man like him went through and to continue and do what he does is pretty incredible.”
The Spurs extended their winning streak to 17 games by winning the first two of this series at home before the Lakers did the same thing—exactly what happened when the teams met in the conference semifinals last year.
“It is very similar,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said. “Let’s hope it continues.”
The Spurs closed last year’s series by winning Games 5 and 6.
Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Duncan had 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Tony Parker added 18 points and eight assists, and Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Spurs.
“Hats off to Kobe and Shaq,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We just didn’t have an answer for them. (Bryant) made some unbelievable shots—but he’s an unbelievable player. It’s not like it’s an aberration.”
Ginobili set up Malik Rose for a dunk and made a layup, moving the Spurs within three points early in the fourth quarter. But O’Neal scored from underneath and Bryant made a 3-pointer and a twisting layup to make it 83-73.
The Spurs weren’t closer than six points after that.
The Lakers came out for the second half trailing by 10 points and mindful how difficult it would be to rally from a 3-1 deficit.
Early in the third period, to show how the intensity level had risen, Gary Payton yelled at teammate Devean George for not calling a timeout after George failed to inbound the ball in the allowed five seconds. George yelled back, telling Payton to move to an open spot.
As in the first three games, the Lakers dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 31-16 for a 79-64 lead. O’Neal had 14 points and seven rebounds and Bryant added nine points in the period.
Earlier, Bryant scored nine points to spark a 17-8 run that cut San Antonio’s lead to 41-40. The Spurs then outscored the Lakers 12-3 for a 53-43 halftime lead.
Duncan had eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists at that stage, making it appear he was on his way to a triple-double. But he had two rebounds and no assists after that.
After committing 57 turnovers in the first three games, Los Angeles had only two in the first half—both in the last two minutes. But the Spurs outrebounded the Lakers 25-15 and held them to one offensive rebound.
The Lakers finished with only eight turnovers to 13 for the Spurs.
Popovich, Parker and several other Spurs were late arriving at Staples Center, taking an hour to travel by bus from nearby Santa Monica. “It was a little crowded out there. I forget where we were,” Popovich said with a smile. … The Spurs are 5-0 in playoff games against the Lakers at SBC Center since the facility opened in November 2002, winning three times last spring and twice last week. … Bryant doesn’t have to return to Colorado on Wednesday for a third day of pretrial hearings as originally scheduled. … Jackson underwent an angioplasty a year ago Monday—the day before the Lakers played the Spursin Game 4 of the conference semifinals.