Spurs 89, Lakers 88

While the Lakers have been getting tons of heat recently for getting blown out at home, they have not lost too many nail biters like the one that took place tonight against the Spurs. It was a back-and-forth game that ended with an Antonio McDyess tip-in at the buzzer, which gave San Antonio an 89-88 victory. There really isn’t much to say about this game other than the fact that it was a hard-fought contest that could have gone either way. Unfortunately, that way wasn’t ours. Here are some observations from the tough loss…

Mano-A-Mano

The now-7.5 games that separate these two teams in the standings does not adequately describe how evenly the two teams matched up and played tonight. Each team won two quarters of the game; the Spurs took the first and third quarters, and the Lakers took the second and fourth. Take a look at some of the other similarities from the box score:

Field Goals Made:  Lakers 34, Spurs 35
Rebounds:  Lakers 44, Spurs 38
Assists:  Lakers 24, Spurs 20
Steals:  Lakers 6, Spurs 5
Blocks:  Lakers 5, Spurs 5
Turnovers:  Lakers 10, Spurs 10

As you can see from the above stats, it was a ridiculously even game. But these types of games often come down to minor details. The little things. Forgotten possessions. And on this night, the Spurs edged out the Lakers in those difference makers, such as hustle plays, fortunate bounces, etc. Take the final play as an example. Manu Ginobili had an incredible look from beyond the arc and bricked it, yet the Spurs got a nice bounce and offensive rebound. Then, Tony Parker got one of his trademark runners in the lane which went in-and-out of the basket, and yet the Lakers couldn’t corral the rebound, so the Spurs got the ball with 4.6 seconds remaining. Finally, Duncan’s shot bricks, but somehow McDyess managed to seal Odom off and tip the ball in with literally a millisecond to spare. Things just went San Antonio’s way. But you can’t hate on them for that.

Tony Parker

Before the game, I tweeted (@lakerstrojans) that if the Lakers hope to win tonight they must do two things. First, I said, the Lakers must prevent Parker from getting into the lane and causing havoc by draining runners or kicking to open shooters. Well, in the first half, the Lakers looked like they had committed to that game plan. Parker scored only 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting through the first two quarters. Furthermore, he only had 2 assists, which signaled that his passes weren’t necessarily leading to buckets for his teammates. However, as I watched the tape I realized that the Lakers didn’t really shut him down with good defense; Parker was just off.

All of that changed after the break. Parker exploded for 14 of his 21 points in the third quarter on a dizzying array of jumpers, runners, floaters, and layups. He blew by Fisher multiple times en route to an unguarded basket; he whizzed around screens to spots on the floor where he could throw up uncontested jumpers; and he weaved his way through the defense for easy layups. Parker’s ability to get into the key proved to be the difference in the game. Check out the tale of his two halves:

1st Half:  4 points (2-7 FG), 2 assists
2nd Half:  17 points (7-10 FG), 0 assists

The Lakers have had trouble with penetrating guards all season, and tonight was no different.

Team First

A good sign for Lakers fans is that the team has seemed to adopt a team-first mentality. Against the Rockets, Kobe made a concerted effort to get Pau involved. Tonight, Kobe continued that effort and racked up 10 assists in the process. Kobe established his role as facilitator early in the game; he didn’t score a single point in the second quarter. In fact, Kobe was so focused on other aspects of the game that he nearly recorded a triple double (one rebound shy). Sure, Kobe was having an off night from the field (5-of-18), so maybe that had a bit to do with it, but it was still nice to see him droppin’ dimes.

Other Random Notes

  • In lieu of the Ron Artest trade saga, I felt weird watching Ron play and he looked kind of awkward out there. He forced a lot of shots/passes very early in the game before settling into somewhat of a groove; he finished the night with 13 points on 6-for-11 from the field and added 5 rebounds. He was decent on defense but it was clear that he was acquired to stop the Paul Pierce’s and Carmelo Anthony’s of the world, and not the Manu Ginobili’s of the world (in other words, slower/bigger guys as opposed to smaller/shiftier/quicker ones).
  • Odom continued to be rock solid for the Lakers. He was very efficient tonight, scoring 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting and adding 6 rebounds and 3 assists. The Spurs are pretty slow in the front court, so Odom’s unique blend of size and speed really caused them fits.
  • Interestingly, the Lakers three bench players that saw action–Odom, Blake, and Brown–combined for a plus/minus rating of plus-25 tonight, whereas the five starters combined for a plus/minus rating of minus-30. I know there are some flaws in plus/minus as a bullet-proof statistic, but I think it’s always great to look at.
  • We don’t need to trade Artest, we need to solve the point guard deficiency. Blake cannot put together any sort of consistency, and Derek Fisher is simply non-existent out there. He scored 2 points (1-5 FG) and added 2 assists tonight. But his defense was what killed me; Parker embarrassed him on the perimeter with his speed.

Conclusion

Tough night. The champs showed fight and proved that they belong at the top of the West (if there was ever any doubt). But a loss is a loss. And now the Lakers embark on a brutal road trip. We can only hope for the best. Next game is at New Orleans on Sunday where they will have to deal with another devastating point guard–CP3.

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