(The Sports Xchange) - Retiring Los Angeles guard and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant may have won the battle on Saturday in his final trip to San Antonio, but it was the Spurs who won the war, thanks to a combined 46 points from their two starting forwards and a pair of huge baskets by point guard Tony Parker down the stretch.
The Spurs survived a riveting command performance in the Alamo City by Bryant and outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 to win their fourth straight game and remain unbeaten at home.
Bryant, who is retiring at the end of this campaign after spending 20 seasons in the NBA, all with Los Angeles, finished with 25 points, 16 of them in the third period to help lead the Lakers back into the game.
“You’ve got to execute and we didn’t for a lot of the game tonight and Los Angeles was fired up,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
“It was a great night for Kobe, which is thrilling because I think he’s great. It’s like watching Michael (Jordan). We made some mistakes and he took advantage of them. He’s fantastic.”
San Antonio got a game-high 26 points from forward LaMarcus Aldridge and 20 points and 13 rebounds from forward Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard also grabbed a huge offensive rebound after a missed free throw in the final minute as the Spurs turned up the heat on both ends of the floor in the last four minutes when it counted the most.
San Antonio (43-8) improved to 28-0 at the AT&T Center this season, extending its record for the best home start ever by a Western Conference team.
The victory also allowed the Spurs to lengthen their regular-season home victory streak to 37 games, dating back to an overtime loss to Cleveland last March, and matched the best overall start in franchise history after 51 games (set in 2010-11).
Saturday’s win was the Spurs’ final home game before their annual Rodeo Road Trip, precipitated each year when the San Antonio Rodeo takes over the AT&T Center for a three-week period.
This year’s trip covers eight games and is extended by the week-long break for the NBA All-Star game. The Spurs will not play another home game until they host Detroit on March 2.
Los Angeles lost center Roy Hibbert to a left ankle sprain eight minutes into the first quarter. Hibbert turned his ankle when to he tried to respond to an up-and-under fake on a shot by Parker and went to the floor.
San Antonio also got 14 points from Parker, 13 points from reserve guard Patty Mills and 11 points from guard Danny Green.
Guard Jordan Clarkson added 21 points for the Lakers (11-42) while forward Julius Randle had 15 points and 17 rebounds for Los Angeles, which had its two-game win streak snapped.
Guard Lou Williams scored 14 points and reserve guard D’Angelo Russell tallied 12 points for the Lakers.
Led by eight points from Mills, the Spurs’ reserves outscored the Los Angeles bench 13-2 over the first 12 minutes and saved valuable minutes for the starters.
Los Angeles, which had trailed by 13 points early in the quarter, rallied to take a 51-50 lead on Randle’s driving layup with 47.9 seconds to play in the period.
Leonard responded with the final four points of the quarter and the Spurs led 54-51 at halftime.
Bryant hit his first shot of the game but had only four points on 2-of-10 shooting after 15 minutes of action in the first half while matched up against Leonard, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
He found his stride and a measure of youth and energy in the third quarter when he took over the game.
“I was happy I was able to get loose a little bit,” Bryant said. “I felt like the Tin Man for a while and couldn’t find any oil anywhere to loosen up these joints. I felt pretty good - it was fun and it was a good competitive game.”
The Spurs saluted Bryant (who is now 43-47 in his career against San Antonio) with a montage of clips before the game and that made it hard for him to get into a competitive mindset early on.
“That tribute brought back a lot of great memories - I’m so thankful for the Spurs for doing that for me,” Bryant admitted.
“It’s strange that I won’t be coming back here. I might come down sometime again, just to mess with Pop.”
When Russell poured in a 3-pointer with 13.8 seconds left in the third period, the Lakers had an 81-79 lead to take into the final quarter and San Antonio looked like it was on the ropes.
Back to back 3-pointers by Green tied the score at 90-90 with 8:31 to play but Russell’s shot from beyond the arc 2 1/2 minutes later allowed the Lakers to regain the lead at 93-92.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly