Games like this are always tough to stomach. While the Lakers didn’t play their best game, they fought hard and had the lead in the closing seconds. A grabbed rebound here or another made basket there and this game turns out different. However, it just wasn’t meant to be as the Spurs did what they’d done all night by getting to the last loose ball and tipping in the game winner as the buzzer sounded. So, despite hanging tough the Lakers let one slip through their fingers as they lost 89-88 to fall 7.5 games back of the Spurs in the West.
In the comments, I thought robinred did a good job of summarizing several of the main points from the game:
*Kobe adjusted to the matchups and the situation; had 10 dimes. The 3 at 83-87 was awful, but he bounced back and found Lamar and Pau the next two trips.
*I like finishing with Blake, even though Parker got into the lane against him as well.
*Artest was engaged and mostly played well. Notice how little damage Ginobili did in crunch time. The 3 Ron missed was a decent look.
*Fisher is more of a liability than ever on some nights.
*Closeouts on 3s often lacking. This team has far better outside shooting than the Lakers do, which will be tough if the Lakers see them come post-season.
*Win would have made everybody feel better, and Ron and Lamar needed to grab the ball/box out there, obviously.
To add to those points, I thought the Lakers really hurt themselves with sloppy play early in the game. They committed too many turnovers of the careless variety and seemed a bit too anxious to make the play – often forcing the action – rather than letting the game come to them. Obviously I liked the fact that they were being assertive and that they were engaged in the game, but too often players (I’m looking at you Kobe and Odom) got caught in the air with no where to go with the ball and ended up throwing the ball away.
The Spurs’ offensive rebounding and the fight for 50/50 balls also hurt the Lakers for long stretches throughout the game. This was especially true in the first half and then again in the closing minutes when all the Lakers needed to do was secure one rebound on the Spurs last possession with a win likely resulting. Countless times the Lakers were just a step slow in getting to a ball cleanly and ultimately knocked the ball out of bounds and allowed the Spurs that extra chance to do damage against the Lakers’ D. Many will point to Ron’s fumbled rebound out of bounds as the biggest example of this, but too many other times the Lakers slapped at balls or ended up battling with a Spur for the rock only to knock it out of bounds and those plays – over the course of the game – did more cumulative damage than one missed board by Ron (even though his was in the most crucial of situations).
From the Lakers perspective, I thought that one area where they really needed to take advantage of what the Spurs were giving them was in making their outside shots. The Lakers only hit 2 of their 14 three point attempts and several of them were good looks that they needed to knock down in order to keep the defense honest. I think it’s a good thing that the Lakers went away from the long ball when the shots weren’t falling, but one of the main reasons they only put up 88 points on the night was because their offense was completely reliant either making long twos or attacking the Spurs’ stout interior defense.
Overall, this game was just disjointed from a Laker side that clearly wanted to win but didn’t effectively execute consistently enough throughout even though they played hard. But despite it all, there was plenty of good that the Lakers did and that shouldn’t be ignored. Pau Gasol was aggressive for most of the evening and was decisive with the ball on most of his touches. Rarely did he hesitate and when he did he typically still ended up making the correct read. Bynum played well coming back from his bone bruise and again showed that he can score in one on one situations vs. Duncan with his jump hook from the right block. And while Kobe’s statline showed a poor shooting night, he actually had at least 4 shots rattle out on him and he mostly took good shots that I don’t mind seeing him take. If he’s able to get those looks consistently, I’ll live with them. And overall, the Lakers defense was solid. Yes, they let Richard Jefferson hurt them and Tony Parker was a force in the 2nd half, but the Spurs shot 41% as a team and Ron did a good job of bothering Ginobili’s shot enough to turn him into a passer for most of the 2nd half.
Obviously losing is disappointing. And I’d be lying if I said that this game is one that I didn’t want badly. But in the end, I can truly see this game being a spring board of sorts for better Laker play going into their road trip over the next couple of weeks. The team still has much to improve on but the effort – if not the execution – was there and for a team that’s too often not played with urgency, it was good to see them get after it the way that they did tonight. So while the result isn’t what I wanted, I’m not terribly broken up over this one. Honestly, I think the Lakers are now closer to being a better team, not further away. And if it took a loss to get us here, I guess I’ll just have to take it.