As Darius said in his game summary, there was a lot to be said about the Lakers win in San Antonio last night. Lamar Odom played great. Kobe’s shots were falling. Pau Gasol, although the box score won’t show it, played a brilliant defensive game. Ron Artest’s five steals felt like much more than just five steals to the Spurs’ offense. And even Jordan Farmar came in and gave the Lakers some valuable minutes with Derek Fisher struggling. The Lakers came out of the break and dominated the third quarter much like we grew accustomed to late in the season last year when they were on their way to a title.
One of the things that stood out most to me was the fact that the Spurs shot 27 three pointers in the game, 16 in the first half. In a game like this, especially against the Lakers, the Spurs of old would have been giving their opponent a much heavier dose of Tim Duncan and Greg Popovic would have never allowed 27 threes to be taken, especially shooting them at the rate that they were. Manu Ginobili and George Hill were able to have big first halves because the Spurs had a few threes drop early, opening up the lanes for them to get to the basket. At the 8:48 mark in the second quarter, Matt Bonner hit the Spurs’ sixth three out of 12 tries. From that point until the 8:11 mark in the third, the Spurs wouldn’t hit another one, missing five in all and would only hit one of their last 10.
The Spurs, as long as Tim Duncan is there, is a team built to work inside out. The Lakers were doing the right thing early by trying to keep the ball out of the paint, which freed up some shooters. A lot of teams have a tendency to keep shooting the money ball after they’ve had early success. The Spurs were 50% through the first 16 and a half minutes, 13% from that point on. Duncan’s continued struggles coupled with the Spurs failure behind the arch is what keyed the Lakers defensive success. Before I link the reactions, here’s the running diary from Basket Blog if you missed the game.
From Land O’ Lakers: Turns out Ron Artest doesn’t just have the colorful personality, controversial past, and distinguished on-floor resume. He apparently possesses a killer sense of timing, too. Evaluations of the Artest-for-Trevor Ariza “swap” have been a consistent feature in discussions of the Lakers all season, with opinions on the issue often vacillating based on a particular evening’s box score. For the record, I was for it then, and would do it again. Others don’t agree, and throughout the year have expressed as much on any given day. Wednesday, for example, Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times re-iterated the position he’s held since the Lakers brought Ron Ron in in; it was a mistake, one helping explain the team’s flagging performance relative to last season. It was a high profile column generating debate not just in the paper and online, but on talk radio and TV, too.
From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: Immediately after converting a putback, Lakers forward Ron Artest blew kisses to Lakers fans in the crowd at AT&T Center. Immediately after hitting a late-game corner three pointer, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant exchanged high-fives with Lakers fans sitting courtside. And immediately after the buzzer sounded, players gathered along the bench all with smiles on their faces. The Lakers’ 92-83 victory Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs marked the team’s seventh consecutive win, but this one was much different. While some of the Lakers remained split on if their current play served as a cause for concern, the team unanimously agreed their previous six wins meant very little.
From The Lakers Nation: The Spurs, this season, have been accused of being too old, past their prime, at times lost, and unable to gel with all their new players. They have struggled, it’s certainly no secret, but there has always been an air of confidence about them, from the coach to last player on the rotation, that keeps them in the rear view mirror of veteran teams who know them all too well — like the Lakers. Kobe said in an interview that the Lakers and Spurs have such a rich history together that they could run each other’s plays, and he’s right. That’s why when it comes to this Western Conference rivalry, it is never about one marquee player against another, Kobe vs. Manu, Duncan vs. Gasol. When it comes to Los Angeles vs. San Antonio, it’s always Popovich vs. Jackson and tonight the advantage was Phil’s. Since Parker’s absence, Manu Ginobli and 2nd year player George Hill, have taken on the reigns on this Spurs team and have done it convincingly. The Lakers were at the losing end of this starting backcourt’s success in the first half when George Hill went off for 20 points and, along with Ginobli, never saw a three-pointer he couldn’t hit. The Spurs hit 6-17 from downtown in the first half, to the Lakers’ 2-8.
From Silver Screen And Roll: Now this is how you start a road trip. This is how you get tuned up for the postseason. By going into the barn of a possible first-round opponent and raining a defensive beatdown on them. The first half tonight was a little ugly, but the second half was undiluted magnificence. The outcome was a rousing 92 to 83 Lakers’ victory over what must be a demoralized San Antonio Spurs squad. It’s the Lakers’ seventh straight win. The Spurs has this one under control early. They were bombing away out of the gate and built a 10-point second quarter lead behind the scoring of George Hill. With Derek Fisher futilely trying to guard him, Hill lit up for 20 first-half points. The defense stabilized when Phil Jackson replaced Fish with Jordan Farmar and then Shannon Brown, but the Lakers were stalling out on offense. Lamar Odom had a good first half, driving to the hole for 12 points, and Kobe Bryant had 10 at halftime, but turnovers and an inability to hit threes meant the Lakers put up a mere 0.98 points per possession (PPP) through the first two quarters. Only San Antonio’s failure to bury more threes – they made 6 of 17 in the first half, and a lot of those misses were easy looks – kept them from blowing the game open.
From Pounding The Rock: Yes, it was torturous. But, that isn’t what I had in mind. A game of such distinct halves couldn’t be better exemplified than a pair of songs from Iron Maiden. In the first half, the Spurs were warriors. They fought. They scrapped. They clawed. In the second half, the Spurs were cowards. They panicked. They took forced shots. They played scared. In the first half, the team played with that perfect mix of ultra-high energy and composure. And it was led by one man. George Hill. He was marvelous. He scored on an array of shots. He was making plays all over the court. He was aggressive attacking the Lakers in the paint and in transition. He dominated Derek Fisher. In addition, Manu was draining 3’s. Between Manu and George, they scored 32 of the Spurs 48 points and were 5 of 7 from deep. If it hadn’t been for Matt Bonner losing his shot — 1 for 6 on 3 pointers — the Spurs would have had much larger than a 7 point lead.
From the Los Angeles Times: When was the last time a boring, unimaginative six-game winning streak became a stellar, laudable seven-game winning streak? Wednesday night. The Lakers turned a near-flawless second half into a 92-83 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, extending their two-week run after getting commendable efforts from too many players to avoid a run-on sentence. Kobe Bryant was proficient on offense, Ron Artest was a game-breaker on defense, and Lamar Odom was strong, sore shoulder and all, at AT&T Center. The Lakers dismantled the Spurs in the second half, outscoring them, 51-35, giving up 18 points in the third quarter, 17 in the fourth. Artest had five steals in the second half, the Spurs shot 29.7% after halftime and the Lakers had themselves a quality victory after a slew of ho-hums.
From the Los Angeles Times: The two big men stood toe to toe going at each other, neither backing down, neither much of an offensive threat. But for the Lakers to have Pau Gasol stand his ground against Spurs All-Star forward Tim Duncan on Wednesday night proved to be a big difference in the Lakers’ 92-83 victory. “It wasn’t the greatest offensive night for either of us, obviously,” Gasol said. “But I just tried to make an impact on the game defensively and rebounding.” And he did. Gasol scored 10 points and missed seven of 11 shots. But he had 12 rebounds. What impressed his coaches the most was Gasol’s defense on Duncan. Gasol had two blocked shots, both against Duncan. Gasol limited Duncan to six points on two-for-11 shooting.
From the Orange County Register: Trevor Ariza’s point, ultimately, was that it’s not about the individuals. It’s about the teams. As often as people keep bringing up Ariza leaving and Ron Artest coming – and more of that is on tap Saturday, when the Lakers are in Houston – Ariza wants to live in the now and focus on being a part of the Rockets while Artest does his thing for the Lakers. “why do me and homie (Artest) keep coming up?” Ariza asked me via Twitter on Wednesday night. “I love home but I play in Houston now. Ron plays in la. that’s what it is. they r a great team.” Ariza’s Tweet to me came after the Rockets had played in Oklahoma City, with Ariza their leading scorer in a losing effort that further diminished Houston’s faint playoff hope. The Lakers would go on to dominate the second half of their game in San Antonio, with Artest providing 12 points and five steals in 19 minutes on the floor after halftime.
From The No Look Pass: Hey, Bill Plaschke and Bill Simmons… were you guys watching? This column by Plaschke (he called Ron Artest an awkward fit with the Lakers) didn’t sit well with me. It really makes me wonder whether Plaschke actually watches Laker basketball. I’ve made my point about Ron Artest HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Again, what did people expect out of Ron? The ball HAS to be shared if a team is top-heavy. And he was NOT expected to be the second or even third option of the team… so I thought he wouldn’t even average double digits this season. He’s averaging 11 points per game, which is pretty respectable despite not knowing the Triangle full well yet AND having teammates like Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. Oh, yeah. The Lakers also employ some guy named Kobe Bryant. So there really aren’t enough shots to go around. I only expected Ron to get maybe seven or eight shots a game (he averages almost ten).
From T.J. Simers: Five games, eight days of bonding with the Lakers, and we begin two hours before tipoff here with the Sputtering Machine shooting free throws all by himself. He makes 105 in a row before missing, making the ballboy run up and down the court for doubting him, and I really like our chances of winning tonight if Sasha Vujacic is standing at the free-throw line. That would be a pretty good indication the Lakers are already up by 20 or so if he’s in the game. I might’ve suggested backing up a few feet since the Machine is being paid $5 million to hit three-pointers and that’s not going so well, but I came here intent on seeing only the good in our heroes.
OTHER LAKERS NEWS
The Los Angeles Times on Bynum and Walton: Not that a team needs a lift while riding a seven-game winning streak, but the Lakers might find one on their injury report. Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton both hope to come back quickly after the Lakers’ five-game trip, either April 2 against Utah or April 4 against San Antonio, both at Staples Center. Bynum said his strained left Achilles’ tendon was feeling better Wednesday, and Walton practiced for the first time Tuesday, doing some non-contact scrimmaging with the team before joining them on their flight to San Antonio. Bynum missed his second consecutive game in the Lakers’ 92-83 victory Wednesday against the Spurs, but said the discomfort was subsiding.
Jordan on Kobe from ESPN.com: Jordan said he wasn’t going to “box myself into” saying if he felt the current core of players that includes Jackson, All-Star Gerald Wallace, Felton, Thomas and Tyson Chandler could develop into a contending team. Actually, Jordan isn’t sure of the best way to construct a championship roster. “There are very few Kobe Bryants out there. LeBron hasn’t won yet. Dwyane Wade had Shaq [O’Neal] sitting next to him and he had Pat Riley coaching him. So there are a lot of other components that come into play to say if you’re an NBA championship team,” Jordan said. “Detroit did a great job in winning and they had no one superstar on that team. Boston won with three All-Stars. The Lakers won with two All-Stars.
Finally, this is a GREAT profile on Pau Gasol from Sports Illustrated (h/t TrueHoop): Pau Gasol walked out of class on Nov. 8, 1991, not sure where he was headed. It was recess at Escola Llor, the private school he attended in suburban Barcelona, and students were starting a soccer match. Gasol wandered the perimeter of the field as if in slow motion, neither playing nor watching, enveloped in a fog that was emanating from a foreign metropolis 6,000 miles to the west. He tried to comprehend the words and letters he had just heard in class: Magic Johnson and HIV. “I was deep in thought,” Gasol says. “I was trying to figure out what it meant and what I should do. It was one of those moments that sticks in your mind and stays there your whole life.” For many of today’s athletes, too young to have seen a president assassinated or remember a space shuttle falling from the sky, it was the first such moment. When the fog finally lifted, Gasol came to a conclusion about his future. He did not decide then that he would move to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers and lead them to a NBA championship. He decided that he would become a doctor and try to cure AIDS. He was 11.