SAN ANTONIO -- New era starts here.
Tuesday night's 93-91 Lakers victory was anything but artistic -- they gave up five points of a seven-point lead in the last 42 seconds and needed a non-call on the last play -- but it was a win, nonetheless, giving them a stranglehold 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Leading, 93-86, the Lakers saw the Spurs cut it to 93-91, got the ball back with 2.1 seconds to play, called timeout, then in-bounded it to Brent Barry.
Barry faked Derek Fisher in the air, then crouched under him while Fisher came down, bumping his shoulder.
No foul was called. Barry got off a three-point shot that glanced off the backboard.
I was going to say it was a controversial non-call, except San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich came into the interview room and said there was no controversy.
"I thought it was a proper no-call, from what I just saw" said Popovich, having reviewed the video. "If I was the official, I wouldn't have called a foul."
For the Lakers, this trip was a test, of which they flunked the first part, losing by 19 points in Game 3. That kept the Spurs alive for a replay of their second-round victory against New Orleans after trailing, 2-0.
Always constructive -- well, almost always -- Kobe Bryant called the Game 3 beating a "learning experience."
Derek Fisher, who at 33 plays the role of den father, noted Monday that the young Lakers have "a very, very high level of short-term memory, which can be good and bad.
"A lot of things that happen are just water off their back. They're just like young kids.
"I think of my kids and they'll look right at you and touch something that you told them not to touch. And then they'll take their hand off it and as soon as you turn around, they put their hand right back on that same spot.
"And we have a lot of young guys on our team with that same mentality. They're so confident about their ability and how much they've helped our team, they don't really stress over a bad game or a bad situation because they feel like, 'OK, we lost last night, we'll win tomorrow,' or, 'I was 1-8 last night, I'll be 8-8 tomorrow.' "
Suggesting an era is ending, there was fear in the air here before Game 4, suggested by all the conspiracy theories being bandied about locally.
You'd think after four titles Spurs fans would be beyond feeling someone is out to get them, especially since their team is the only one in the universe that never complains about such things.
Nevertheless, some things are universal.
The news that Joey Crawford, one of the league's top-rated referees but one with whom the Spurs have a lot of history, was working Tuesday's game almost started a panic, with one talk-show host likening him to Charles Manson.
It was Crawford who ejected Tim Duncan for laughing on the Spurs' bench last season, for which the official was suspended for the rest of the season.
Popovich, who almost never complains about referees, discounted it as usual.
"It doesn't matter who the officials are for a game," Popovich said before the game. "They're going to do their best job to officiate, just like the Lakers and the Spurs are going to do their best job to play a game."
The Lakers' best was just good enough, coupled with the fact that the Spurs went cold at the wrong time.
The Lakers were leading, 81-79, when the Spurs started throwing up bricks, one after the other -- a three-point try by Manu Ginobili, a 17-footer by Tony Parker, a three-point shot by Bruce Bowen, after which Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto fumbled a handoff.
By then, the Lakers were up, 88-79 with 3:29 left and not even they were going to blow a lead that big that late.
"You want to come right back and show them we're a young team but just because you beat us by 20, that's not going to affect us the next game," Bryant said before the game. "We're going to come out here and bring it to you.
"So I think that's the message we have to send, to show them that we're worthy of taking that crown."
They're worthy, if barely. Now to see if they can actually take that crown.