The Los Angeles Lakers clinched a playoff spot with a fourth-quarter stand and a Kobe Bryant moment that coach Phil Jackson said didn't feel at all like the postseason.
Sure could have fooled most people watching.
Scoring the last of his 23 points on a 3-pointer with 1:46 left, Bryant and the Lakers became the first team in the West to secure a playoff spot with a 102-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
The Spurs have been the No. 2 team in the West most of the season, and Los Angeles validated that pecking order with a road win that also wrapped up the Pacific Division with a month to play in the regular season.
Not that Bryant cared in the slightest.
``Oh yeah,'' Bryant cracked, ``we're really big on Pacific Division titles.''
Tony Parker and Michael Finley had 25 points apiece for the Spurs, who trailed by as much as 18 points before mounting a furious fourth-quarter comeback. Parker hit a 3-pointer with 2:19 left to cut the score to 95-93, but Bryant answered right back with his 3-pointer in the face of rookie George Hill.
As Bryant left the court, a few dozen fans chanted ``M-V-P! M-V-P!'' in what is usually hostile territory for the Lakers.
Hill said he was surprised the shot went in.
``I thought it was pretty good defense,'' Hill said. ``But it's Kobe, and he makes great plays. I did the best I could to challenge him and try to push him back out. He's deadly.''
Pau Gasol had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers. Lamar Odom had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his return from a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in Monday's loss to Portland.
Tim Duncan had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs, whose lead over the Rockets in the Southwest Division was cut to two games. San Antonio plays at Houston on Saturday, when the Rockets will becoming off a Friday night game at Charlotte.
Drew Gooden made his Spurs debut after being signed a week ago, but played just 3 1/2 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds.
``We couldn't get anything done offensively, and defensively they made every shot,'' Parker said. ``After that we were in a big hole, and against the Lakers it's tough to come back.''
Trevor Ariza, who joined the Lakers' starting lineup this week, scored 10 points. Derek Fisher also added 10.
``You're always surprised you jump out early, particularly in this building because they play so well at home,'' Bryant said. ``But that's what we needed.''
The close finished belied what looked like a Lakers blowout from the start.
Forcing the usually careful Spurs into 10 first-half turnovers, the Lakers rolled to a 35-17 lead - the most points allowed by the Spurs in the first quarter all season.
``It's difficult to spot the best team in the league 18 points and then go play,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``It was a really tough first quarter. They played great and didn't miss many shots. They made shots and we played badly.''
Re: Bryant scores 23 as Lakers clinch playoff berth
Spurs had a HUGE run late in the 4th Quarter, but it was a little too late. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I can't wait to meet up with the Lakers again in the Playoffs. This time, with Manu Ginobili.