This series is going to be an interesting chess match, as both teams have some very powerful offensive weapons and both play impressive defense (although the Lakers tend to be more spotty on that end).
Some will say you can’t take much from the Lakers/Spurs meetings this past season (the Lakers only had Gasol for one of the games, the Spurs were without key players in both losses), but I think when you look back you see some things that will be trends in this series.
April 13, Lakers 106, Spurs 85. The Spurs were without Ginobili, who was out with a groin strain, but stayed even through the first half. The Lakers started the second half with a 17-6 run and never looked back.
The trends: Most importantly second half was one of the Lakers better defensive halves of the season, and they did something I think we may well see again to defend Duncan. From Bill Bridges at the time:
The Spurs try to force the opponent to double team Duncan who then passes it out for open 3’s. The rotation is usually easy for Duncan to spot as it comes from the wing or corner. In the second half. The Lakers didn’t double him as much. Instead, when the Spur in the corner facing Duncan cleared baseline, the Laker guarding him followed his man past Duncan but then immediately turned back to double him from the blindside. This disrupted Duncan’s usual kick outs because his usual normal targets were still covered yet he was being doubled hard from the baseline. Very smart and effective.
Also, the Lakers had a very balanced attack in the win, with six players in double digits but no one with more than 20 points – that depth is something the Lakers can use to their advantage in this series. We can debate which team has the better top three, but the Lakers are much better 4 through 10 and that is something they can and should exploit.
Finally, Lamar Odom had 17 points, 14 boards and was a game-best +26. He will have to have more big games like that for the Lakers to advance, the Spurs have some big bodies but will have time matching the speed of both Gasol and Odom.
January 23, Spurs 103, Lakers 91. This was the Lakers in between Bynum and Gasol. The Lakers still jumped out to a 14 point second quarter lead and led at the half, the Spurs came out with a 14-0 run to start the second half and a 15-2 run at the end of the quarter sealed the Spurs win.
The trend: The Spurs pulled away thanks to very good on the ball pressure that stopped the Lakers ball movement and got the Lakers into isolation. In this series the Lakers cannot revert to that game, they need the offense to continue as it has recently against the best defensive team than they have faced in a while.
December 13. Lakers 102, Spurs 97. Not a lot you can take away from this, Duncan and Parker missed the game, and the Lakers got Ginobili in foul trouble so he missed much of the game.
The trend: The Lakers starters still got outplayed, it was the Lakers bench that won the game (all the starters had negative +/- numbers for the game). We mentioned depth before but it bears repeating.
November 13, Spurs 107, Lakers 92. Parker and Ginobili drove into the lane at will, the Lakers defense collapsed on them, and on the kick-outs Bowen went 6 of 6 from beyond the arc.
The trend: As the season wore on the habit of the Lakers to collapse in the paint off three-point shooters has decreased, but it is not something they can revert to in this series. The Spurs thrive on the three, they averaged nearly 20 a game during the regular season, and they hit 36.9% of them as a team because they get good looks. Duncan can demand the double team, and the penetration of Parker and Ginobili can mean open looks on kick-outs. The Lakers cannot sag into the paint and give the Spurs shooters looks from beyond the arc.
There is something mentioned in several comments and stories – that Pau Gasol has played Tim Duncan tough through the years. Some say that dates all the way back to the 2004 Olympics when Gasol dominated Duncan.
We’ll see if it is true, but I tried to look back at the Spurs games against Memphis from this season where the two played and measured the +/-. I should note I don’t know how much of the time Gasol was directly matched up with Duncan, so consider these numbers very crude.
On Oct. 31, Gasol was +10, Duncan had 17 points on 46% shooting. On November 23, Gasol was -6, Duncan had 28 points on 82% shooting. December 30, Gasol -19, Duncan had 24 points of 50% shooting.
I’m not sure we take anything from that, just throwing the numbers out there.
UPDATE: KD reminds me that he looked at the Gasol/Duncan matchup way back at the start of the playoffs, and he has a lot more info than I did. Because he’s damn good.