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On this date: Kobe Bryant helps Lakers tie WCSF against Spurs

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In 2003, the Los Angeles Lakers were aiming for a fourth straight NBA championship, but they were starting to get creaky.

Shaquille O’Neal needed offseason surgery on his arthritic big toe, but he delayed it until September. As a result, he missed training camp and the first few weeks of the season. He was out of shape and lacked urgency for many weeks afterward.

Kobe Bryant went on an absolute tear in January and February to get L.A. over .500, and it played very well over the last half of the season, boosting hope among fans that it would win it all yet again.

But when the Lakers took six games to get past the inferior Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs, the cracks in their armor were hard to miss.

They lost the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili ran circles around them.

L.A. rebounded to easily take Game 3, but learned head coach Phil Jackson needed an emergency angioplasty and would have to miss Game 4.

Without their Zen Master (assistant Jim Cleamons took over), the Lakers overcame a sizable deficit through much of the first three quarters and won, 99-95, as Bryant led the way with 35 points.

He scored nine points in the final 5:13 of the fourth quarter to help seal the deal (O’Neal went just 6-of-17 from the field).

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for the Lakers. They ultimately lost the series in six, but Bryant helped them fight hard until the bitter end.

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