For the second time in four days, the Lakers faced the Spurs and were throttled, this time by the count 121-97. The game leaves the Lakers even in the loss column with the Clippers and reeling with the Thunder coming to Staples on Sunday. The game offered a glimpse into what’s been an all too common theme of late for the team we cheer, a collapse on defense with lots of questions that need answering.
Some observations from the defeat:
- The Spurs are one of the simpler teams in terms of offensive scheme. They run high P&R’s with Parker (and some with Ginobili), space the floor with shooters, and use Duncan as an outlet at the high post if initial actions don’t lead to a compromised defense. When not running the P&R, they use simple screen actions off the ball to free up their wings to put them into positions where they can attack off the dribble or shoot open jumpers while mixing in simple post up actions for Duncan. But, within this simplicity is a profound discipline that, when teamed with familiarity and comfort, can be devastating. Tonight, the Lakers took the full brunt of this attack on the chin, consistently finding themselves spread thin and unable to cover all the options the Spurs opened up through expert ball movement.
- The Lakers inability to cover all these options mostly stemmed from the way they covered the Spurs initial P&R. Basically, if you rewind almost a year, you’d find that the way the Lakers tried to contain the Spurs tonight looked eerily similar to how they tried to guard the Mavs’ same action. The Lakers bigs (and primarily Andrew Bynum) sat well below the screen inviting the guard to turn the corner while attempting to deter him from advancing all the way to the rim. This technique gave the ball handler (mostly Tony Parker) room to either pull up for a mid-range jumper or pick out a teammate (sometimes Duncan, sometimes the man in the corner spacing behind the three point line) for an open jumper. Parker consistently made the right pass/shoot decision and torched the Lakers with this action all night. Sometimes that meant pulling up for the J himself and knocking that down. Sometimes it meant passing it back to Duncan who was wide open in the 16 to 18 foot range who also knocked the shot down. Or, he’d hit Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard in the corner and they’d knock down the jumper. In any event, what this action produced was wide open shots more often than not and the Spurs hit them.
- Once these shots started to fall with consistency, the Lakers defense was put in positions where they started to scramble. They’d charge at Duncan and he’d put the ball on the floor and shoot a little flip shot. They’d rush to the corner and Green or Leonard (or Ginobili) would put the ball on the ground and further compromise the D. Or, Parker would use the threat of his jumper and drive deeper into the paint and either get a shot at the rim or collapse the D further. And against a collapsed D, the Spurs would just make the next shoot/pass decision correctly. Again and again and again.
- This was the Lakers’ night on defense. They’d scramble, someone would help, a pass was made, someone would help again, and sooner or later someone would not help the helper and an open shot was created. The Spurs did this all night in nearly every half court set and slowly bled the Lakers to death.
- The Spurs, though, also ran. They pushed the ball after makes and misses. Outlet passes were tossed over the heads of Lakers and Paker et al were off to the races, looking for the best good shot they could find against a defense that wasn’t ready to defend. This often meant shots right at the rim as Parker pushed down broadway only to find himself flanked by at least one teammate (and usually more). And when it wasn’t Parker running a traditional break, it was Leonard or Green leaking out. Or Stephen Jackson. Or Gary Neal. Or…you get the point.
- Kobe Bryant played tonight and he looked good. He played a controlled game in the first half before asserting himself in the 3rd quarter by looking for his own shot more. It will take a bit of time for him to find his comfort zone back with a group that found theirs without him, but I’m not concerned about it. Kobe looked to make the extra pass even when the initial action was run for him. He looked to shoot when he had advantageous position to do so. The offense looked clunky at times as Kobe sometimes found himself jockeying for position close to where Bynum was set up or when he didn’t see Ron or Barnes breaking open into the post, but, again, that’s going to happen at times.
- Ramon Sessions is in a funk. I’m not going to guess at what the root of it is but I’d imagine his bum shoulder and making an adjustment to playing at a pace that’s slower than his ideal one are part of the issue. In any event, he’s not looked right for several games in this recent stretch of contests and that needs to be rectified sooner than later. Against the Spurs, he seemed to have trouble with a defensive scheme that either allowed him his jumper or invited him all the way to the rim to try and finish over a contesting big man. His shots never seemed to be in rhythm or come comfortably. I would have liked to have seen him go to his in between game more by taking more floaters but it just didn’t happen tonight. I have a feeling he’ll see the same type of defense on Sunday so maybe we’ll see an adjustment then.
- In the third quarter – where the Lakers gave up 35 points and were outscored by 14 – they hung their heads and looked defeated. I can understand the feeling as the Spurs operated with Borg-like (the Star Trek villain or Swedish tennis player – you choose) precision and hammered them. But I must say it was disconcerting seeing them with no answers and little fight. I’m not saying they quit (far from it, actually) it was just a sense that they’d resigned themselves to the loss after the Spurs made their push. Again, I can understand it.
After the game, Kobe spoke of the adjustments that would need to be made and that they would, indeed, be made. On twitter, in the midst of the rout, I said something similar. The Lakers problems in this game were mostly about helping the helper in the half court and floor balance issues that led to poor transition defense in the open court. These are fixable issues. They’ll need study, to be addressed in practice, and to be drilled repeatedly but they can be fixed. That said, they will need to be fixed. This game looked too much like the games we saw in the Mavericks’ sweep last year. And, since that was nearly a year ago and involved an entirely different coaching staff, that’s worrisome.
There are two games left in the regular season and then the playoff will be here. A week from today, the Lakers will have a first round opponent primed to try and pick at the scabs of the wounds from losses just like this one. Here’s hoping the Lakers defense is up to stopping them.