For the second straight game, the Taco Unit was in for the Lakers to close out the game, Kobe struggled with his jump shot and Pau Gasol put up good numbers. Also, for the second straight game in Staples Center, one of the Western Conference’s top 2 teams left the arena with a loss – this time it was the Lakers. The Spurs came into Staples Center, weathered the Lakers early storm and walked out with a 100-81 win and a spot in the playoffs. With the Lakers loss, the Cleveland secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Less than a month ago the Lakers went into San Antonio and gutted their way to a nine-point win after being down nine at the half. I remember saying that the Spurs weren’t the same when they don’t run their offense through Tim Duncan, and their early three point success ultimately led to their doom. Apparently, the Spurs’ coaching staff saw the same things we saw over here at FB&G and gave the Lakers a much heavier dose of Duncan. In the previous meeting, Duncan was two for 11 with six points, taking only two foul shots. This afternoon, Duncan was 10 for 14 with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. He took five foul shots and the Spurs were +16 with him on the floor as opposed to -12 in their previous meeting.
Also, Manu Ginobili, who has really been playing like the ’06 Ginobili as of late, had a much bigger impact on the game than he did in his previous meeting. With about a minute left in the second quarter, Ron Artest and Ginobili got tangled up on an inbounds play and were both called for technical fouls. At that point in the game, Ginobili had nine points. After the double-technical, Ginobili scored five unanswered points and had an assist to help extend the Spurs lead from three to eight going into the half. Ginobili finished with 32 points, five rebounds and five assists, leading his team in both scoring and assists on the afternoon.
The last huge difference was the performance of Kobe. In their previous meeting, Kobe was 11 for 16 with 24 points and six assists. Today, he shot an abysmal eight for 24, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds and six assists. Even with Gasol playing as well as he was, Kobe forced a lot of shots and was never able to get into rhythm. In the first quarter, he seemed like he was trying hard to get his jumper to fall, missing from 22, 7, 21 and 17 feet. As soon as he entered the game for Shannon Brown in the second quarter, he was called for an offensive foul, then turned the ball over on their next possession. He missed two free throws, was called for a technical foul and turned the ball over one more time right before the end of the half that led to a Ginobili dunk.
As bad as Kobe played, I can live with him missing shots that he normally makes. What my biggest concern for the Lakers is their bench play and how much missing Andrew Bynum is hurting this team. At the half, the Lakers had zero points from their bench. Not one of the reserves scored until Shannon Brown got to the rim for a layup with just under three minutes left to play in the third quarter. That’s 33 minutes of no bench production, and you just can’t win games that way. Even worse is the fact that only Jordan Farmar’s jumper at the beginning of the fourth quarter was the Lakers only other points. Four points in 53 combined minutes off of the bench is mind boggling. I just don’t understand how that’s possible. Not only is Andrew Bynum going to help defend guys like Tim Duncan, but it’s going to give the Lakers a much needed extra body to come off of the bench.
What’s scary about the potential of this Lakers team is the fact that, as badly as they played, they still had an opportunity to win the game. With just under 8 minutes left to play, Pau Gasol hit a wide-open 15-footer to cut the Spurs lead to three points, seemingly taking the momentum away from the Spurs one possession at a time. However, the Spurs were able to do what the Lakers haven’t been able to do to opponents in what seems like months – throw that late fourth quarter haymaker to remove any doubt of who is coming out of the game with the win – and went on a 13-1 run over the next two plus minutes. Here’s a short running diary of what happened after Gasol’s 15-footer.
7:45 – Spurs run high S&R with Ginobili with Brown and Gasol defending. Gasol shows on the right side of the screen, Ginobili sets Brown up with the crossover, and Brown runs into a set Duncan, leaving the left side of the floor open for Ginobili to drive. The rotation is slow and Luke Walton (I’m glad to see him back on the floor) is forced to give Ginobili a hard foul to prevent the easy bucket. Ginobili knocks down both free throws. (76-71 Spurs)
7:23 – After Farmar misses a relatively open three-pointer, Ginobili comes down the court, looks to penetrate, when the lane is closed by a helping Odom, Ginobili finds Odom’s man, Antonio McDyess, wide open for a 20-footer. Time out Lakers. (78-71 Spurs)
6:42 – The Lakers come out of the timeout and turn the ball over when Ron Artest fumbles a pass from Gasol out of bounds. The Spurs come down on the other end, feed Duncan who gets a very good look, after backing down Gasol, that doesn’t fall. They keep the play alive by being aggressive on the offensive boards, the ball goes out of bounds off the Lakers. On the inbounds, it looks like the Spurs botched the play they were running, but Ginobili scrambled for the lose ball and flipped in an off-balance shot in the paint. (80-71 Spurs).
6:10 – The Lakers come down the floor, and from their set, Artest passes the ball on the left wing, Odom passes the ball to Gasol who is 15 feet away from the basket on the left side, who holds the ball for six seconds, not making a basketball move, then hoists up the jump shot over Duncan which goes long off of the back side of the rim. This is, ostensibly, the Lakers offense at its worst. Ginobili, who grabbed Gasol’s rebound, went down the floor at the other end and ran the high screen and roll with Duncan, this time with Artest guarding the ball instead of Brown. Duncan set the same exact screen that he set on the last S&R, but since Ginobili used his crossover to get both Brown and Gasol on the same side to open up the left side of the lane, Gasol fails to show on the right side of the screen, hoping to catch the cut back and Ginobili takes the screen as it is and puts in a floater over Odom and Gasol who is coming over to help from the top of the key. This is the Spurs offense at its best. (82-71 Spurs)
5:41 – The Lakers finally get some offense going when Kobe and Gasol run a delayed P&R. Gasol sets the screen for Kobe, and waits for the double team to go to Kobe as he penetrates, which also gives Kobe time to operate without another big in the middle if the double doesn’t come. Kobe gets to the right elbow and picks up his dribble when he sees Duncan coming toward him to help, at that point, Gasol started cutting to the basket from the three-point line. Duncan loses track of Gasol and is sent to the line by McDyess. He makes one of two. At the other end, Ginobili brings the ball down, makes an entry pass to Duncan who finishes with a pretty up-and-under move on Gasol. They’re now on a 13-1 run and Ginobili has either scored or assisted on 11 of the 13 points – and if this were Chris Paul in New Orleans, that last entry pass to Duncan would have counted as an assist, too. And just like that, the lead is extended to 12 points. (84-72 Spurs)
What I will say is that it didn’t look like the Lakers were lacking effort. For much of this game, there was a playoff atmosphere, and the Lakers seemingly wanted to win this game, they just couldn’t put it together. They shot terribly from the field. Outside of Gasol (13 for 20), Fisher (three for four) and Odom (four for eight), no Laker was remotely close to shooting 50 percent. They shot 40 percent as a team and just under 24 percent from behind the arc (5 for 21). They didn’t turn the ball over too many times (11, which is under their season average) but they were outrebounded and went to the line fewer times.
The Lakers get another shot to put things together on Thursday night when they go to Denver to face a struggling Nuggets team. That’s going to be another huge, tough game against another playoff-bound team. Hopefully they can get things together in the three days they have off.