SAN ANTONIO They're San Antonio's second wave, the guys who come into the game cold and try to make things happen while the starters cool down and catch their breath.
And in Monday night's 87-82 playoff victory over Los Angeles, they made all the difference.
The Spurs' bench, led by rookie Manu Ginobili's 15 points, outscored the Lakers' reserves 28-4. They also had more rebounds, more assists and six of San Antonio's nine steals.
Spurs center David Robinson said the current batch of reserves is by far the best in his 14 years with the team, and that they will continue to play a key role as San Antonio strives to beat the three-time defending champion Lakers.
"We have four or five solid guys who come in and do a great job for us," said Robinson, who depends on Malik Rose and Kevin Willis to help him handle Shaquille O'Neal. "At times our bench plays better than our starters play -- not many teams can say that."
Meanwhile, Los Angeles may have to look farther down their bench in tonight's Game 2 after small forward Devean George severely sprained an ankle late in Game 1 after getting tangled up with Ginobili under the basket.
George, a reserve during the regular season, was pressed into starting duty after Rick Fox was lost for the remainder of the playoffs because of a foot injury sustained in the opening round against Minnesota.
He said Tuesday that the ankle was still sore, but the swelling was down, giving him hope he might be able to play this postseason.
"I'm able to put a little pressure on it, but I'll stay on crutches for another day," George said Tuesday. "If I can continue to progress, I could be back before the series is over."
Kobe Bryant said the injury bug wasn't anything the Lakers couldn't deal with.
"Every position in the triangle (offense) is interchangeable, so we'll be more than adept at moving Robert (Horry) to the three spot," said Bryant, who had 37 points in Game 1. "We'll get Devean back shortly, so for the time being, we'll do our best and move on without him."
O'Neal said the loss of George will be an opportunity for Stanislav Medvedenko, who didn't play at all in Game 1.
"I think Slava's going to be a big help -- he can score, he can play," said O'Neal, who had 24 points and 21 rebounds before fouling out late in the game. "We don't need any offensive help, but he's that type of player. He's going to have to step up."
Ginobili had 14 points in the second half, among them a critical three-pointer in the fourth quarter after O'Neal almost single-handedly slashed a 10-point San Antonio lead to 69-68.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Argentina, who made all three of his three-pointers and had four steals, said he likes the late-game pressure.
"Your stomach feels tight, all the responsibility is on your shoulders," he said. "As far as I can remember, I've always enjoyed those kind of moments."
Robinson said he expects O'Neal to come out hard in Game 2, which will up the pressure on himself and Tim Duncan (28 points, eight rebounds Monday), as well as the big men off the bench.
"I'll get some help," said Robinson, who has been plagued with lower back and knee ailments this season. "You're not really going to stop him from getting his points -- he's too good for that. But if you can slow him down and make him work a little bit harder, then I think you get your job done."