There’s lots of good to takeaway from this game, even though the Lakers fell 84-82.
The team played hard and showed a fire on the defensive side of the ball that’s been lacking for most of this season. They held the high octane Spurs to only 84 points and 38.9% shooting from the field. They also controlled the glass again, out-rebounding San Antonio by 10 (with their 13 offensive boards being a key reason why). They also did a good job of keeping their composure throughout a game that saw the Spurs make their fair share of runs, only for the Lakers to counter with their own to ensure they never lost separation.
But these things simply weren’t enough. Because when the Lakers needed to hit the key shot or get the key stop, they simply couldn’t do it. This was evidenced by the last two plays of the game.
With the Lakers up by one with 19 seconds left, the Spurs ran a fantastic set to get Danny Green open. Parker set up high, hit Duncan with a pass at the top of the key and then Timmy handed the ball off to Kawhi Leonard. After that he set a down screen on Kobe to free Danny Green who opened up at the three point line to hit the game winning shot.
On the other end of the floor the Lakers final set was disjoined and didn’t produce any kind of clean action. Kobe tried to break open but couldn’t and that led to Ron inbounding to Pau in the corner. Kobe tried to break free again — and did momentarily — but Pau didn’t risk the pass and instead found himself holding the ball with the clock winding down. At that point he had little choice but to fire away and his shot clanged off the rim with a scrum for the rebound eating away the remaining seconds.
Kobe remains brilliant on offense and the team continues to get good shots within their sets but the lack of outside shooting doomed them again tonight. With the Lakers wings not able to hit their jumpers, Dwight Howard got swarmed in the paint and ended up committing 6 turnovers as extra defenders reached in and pestered him into mistakes. And while Kobe tried to make up for it with his individual prowess, it simply wasn’t enough.
If there’s one player we need to see more from it’s Pau Gasol. The Spaniard didn’t do a great job with the touches he got tonight (3-10 shooting) but I’m also concerned about him not getting more touches when he’s playing with the bench. When Pau is paired with Dwight he’ll often spend time at the elbow (or higher) spacing the floor and acting as a distributor. But when he’s in the game as the lone offensive big, he needs the ball in the post and too often against the Spurs he found himself frozen out of possessions as the wings over-dribbled and passed the ball around the perimeter hunting their own looks. Pau’s shot chart tells a lot of the story as to why he struggled some tonight:
That’s not nearly enough shots in the paint for Gasol, not tonight. Not on any night. Granted, he could do better establishing the post but the team needs to actively set up possessions to get him the ball down there as well.
In any event, that was only one issue on the night. The Lakers also committed too many turnovers (17) and again struggled at the foul line (14-22). If they clean up either one of those areas, the game probably doesn’t come down to the final possession.
All that said, this is a game the team can build on. The effort they showed tonight on the defensive side of the ball needs to be the new norm for them. If they can defend this well and improve in a few areas on offense (where they’ve actually been very efficient this year and are adding a head coach that should inspire more production on that end) they’ll be the team we all imagined they could be.
So in that respect, there are some positives. I’d still like to have these building block games be wins, however.