SAN ANTONIO — Sometimes the other team is better.
The Spurs had a chance to knock off the highly touted Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night after trailing by 19, but they fell short against a team expected to contend for the NBA title this season.
The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 46 points, leading the Lakers to a 103-96 victory at the AT&T Center before a crowd that included a good share of boisterous L.A. fans.
Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray tied the game at 90 on a layup with 4:10 left, but the Lakers responded with a 17-point jumper by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 24 seconds later. L.A. never trailed again.
Caldwell-Pop nailed a corner three to make it 95-90, and the Lakers wound up outscoring the Silver and Black 13-6 after the game's last tie.
"It’s a 48-minute game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I think we played really well in the second half and I thought we were more aggressive, competitive, and executed better in the second half. We started off very poorly in that regard, but I was happy with our play in the second half.
"The Lakers are talented, aggressive, and they are a hell of a defensive team, but we are right there and hope got away from us. Two three’s in-a-row and that was the killer down the stretch. I was really proud of our guys.”
The Lakers (5-1) haven't lost since falling to the Los Angeles Clippers in their opener. The Spurs slipped to 4-2 with their first home loss of the season.
San Antonio plays at Atlanta on Tuesday and hosts Oklahoma City on Thursday and Boston on Saturday.
San Antonio shot only 39.8 percent (33-83) for the game, and was 6 of 25 (24 percent) from the three-point line.
"Defense is our staple," James said. "We have been talking about it and we believe it. No matter how it is going for us offensively, struggling to shoot the ball, or turning the ball over, we have to still continue to get stops and we did that tonight in a very hostile environment and an environment that is very tough to win in. I know from experience, it was a very good win for us early in the season.”
James finished with a triple-double, scoring 21 points and adding 11 rebounds and 13 assists. Davis, who is in his first season with the Lakers after spending the first seven years of his career with New Orleans, had a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Murray also had a double-double for the Spurs, finishing with 18 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. He scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, when he made 6 of 7 shots, including his only three-point attempt of the game. Murray also had five rebounds and two steals in the period.
"He is like a young pup and he is trying to figure it out," Popovich said of Murray, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. "He’s got speed, he’s aggressive, and at the same time, he’s trying to learn how to run the show and find people and take good shots. He’s in a learning situation and doing one heck of a job, I think.”
Murray, who is on a minutes restriction because of the ACL injury he sustained in the preseason last year, went to the bench for good when L.A. led 100-92 with 1:45 remaining.
The Lakers led 56-43 at the half and went up by 19 in the third quarter, but the Silver and Black refused to go quietly into the night. Rudy Gay beat the buzzer with a 37-foot shot to cut S.A.'s deficit to five (77-72). The Spurs outscored L.A. 29-21 in the third quarter.
Gay and DeMar DeRozan added 16 and 14 points, respectively, for the Silver and Black. Bryn Forbes (12) and Derrick White (12) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring.
Led by Dwight Howard and Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers outscored the Spurs 26-24 in the final period. Howard scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, and Caldwell-Pope added seven points.
Still, the Silver and Black outscored the visitors 53-47 in the second half.
"Second half was a completely different team," DeRozan said. "More aggressive on both ends, kind of put our will out there on the game. It came down to us making one too many mistakes, a couple turnovers, a couple offensive rebounds that we gave up, two threes from [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope that kind of hurt us. We made it tough on ourselves, but we were still right there.”
DeRozan, who drew the assignment of guarding James, was asked about the challenge the Spurs faced in playing defense against James and Davis.
"It’s tough, it’s tough," DeRozan said. "They’re two of the best players in our league. When they play their two-man game, it’s going to take more than one player to try to guard that.
"It’s going to take a collective team effort. Some possessions we made mistakes. We gave up a couple of things but I was proud how we came back in the second half and fought.”
And what was it like trying to guard James?
“You always look forward to those challenges," DeRozan said. "You try to make it as tough as possible. It’s a battle, it’s fun. For a player like me, you look to go against players like that.”
Avery Bradley (16), Caldwell-Pope (14) and Howard (14) also scored in double figures for L.A.
Kyle Kuzma nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Lakers a 56-43 lead at the half.
L.A. ended the half with a 10-0 run after the Spurs had pulled to within three, 46-43, on two free throws by White. A free throw by DeRozan gave the Silver and Black their last lead, 31-30, with 7:57 left in the half.
The Lakers hurt the Spurs inside in the first two quarters, outscoring them 32-12 in the paint. L.A. shot 51.1 percent overall (23-45) and made 5 of 15 thre-pointers.
Davis led the Lakers' first-half scoring with 15 points, and James and Avery Bradley added 11 and 10, respectively.
San Antonio shot 33.3 percent (14-42) in the first half and was 4 of 16 from beyond the arc.