Spurs Receive A Sign Of What’s To Come?
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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The win was practically penciled in for the San Antonio Spurs, who are in the midst of a tight race with the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Miami HEAT for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers were without Kobe Bryant, the league’s leading scorer who is dealing with an injured left shin. The big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili was well rested after getting Monday night off against the Utah Jazz. Everyone in the AT&T Center expected the Spurs to cruise to an easy victory, which would have been their 12th in 13 attempts.
They cruised alright, but far too much.
The Lakers pounded it inside to their big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, aggressively crashed the glass, and made 11-23 from distance in a one-sided 98-84 road upset of the Spurs.
“The Lakers played great and they beat us to death,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said to HOOPSWORLD. “There’s nothing else you can say about it. They deserve credit for playing so well. A lot of guys shot it well. They rebounded well and were physical. They beat us in every facet of the game. It was a really poor performance execution wise and competitiveness wise. There’s nothing else to say.”
At times the game looked very similar to the Spurs’ first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs. The Grizzlies were able to become just the second eighth place team to upset the top seed by exposing their interior defense.
The Lakers did the same thing on Wednesday night. Bynum and Gasol combined to take 44 shots, undoubtedly a product of Bryant’s absence, and outrebounded the Spurs by themselves 41-33. Bynum established a new career-high with 30 rebounds by himself.
“It was a great performance,” Parker said. “He was everywhere tonight. Offense, defense, blocking shots and controlling the paint, he did a great job tonight.”
“He got a lot of position rebounds tonight,” Duncan added. “He obviously is a big body and he had eight offensive rebounds, which really hurt us. All in all, we just did not play well and our focus was not there for whatever reason and we just did not play well for long enough tonight.”
Although skilled inside, the Spurs lack the size and length to contain a team with two talented big men like the Lakers have. That’s why they were able to impose their will.
The Spurs typically make up for their inefficiencies inside with great guard play. However, Parker and Ginobili struggled just as much offensively as their big men did defensively. Parker shot 2-12 from the field, while Ginobili was a pedestrian 3-8 as the Lakers made a concerted effort to limit the transition looks that they thrive off of.
“I thought our point guards did a nice job of controlling the tempo,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “We never let this game get into much of a rat race. Even though San Antonio had 17 fast break points, we still had control of the game, most of the time. We got a lot of good production from a lot of guys. Coming into this game, we had been trying to iron out our mistakes a little bit. We can’t have unforced turnovers; to have twelve turnovers against this team in an environment like this for us is pretty good. Just to allow ten points off those twelve turnovers is even better.”
Things overall couldn’t have gone much better for the Lakers. They came to make a statement while the Spurs didn’t show up at all. Every team, especially in a shortened season like this one, has off nights like the Spurs did on Wednesday. You can probably count the amount of times that’s happened in Coach Pop’s 16 year career on two hands.
Effort and desire will not be an issue the rest of the season. The Spurs are going to be back in action on Thursday night against the Grizzlies; there’s no way they won’t come out inspired and motivated.
“I’m very glad there’s a game tomorrow night,” Duncan said. “After a game like tonight we just want to get back on the floor and guarantee a better performance from us.”
Even when the Spurs do come out and lay it all out on the line, their ability to contain teams with strong low post presences should seriously be questioned. Teams are going to follow the blueprint of attacking them inside in the playoffs when they have ample time to prepare for each game. Are the Spurs equipped to combat it?
“I think with our size inside we’re really hard to match up with especially when we utilize our two bigs and we go to the post, force the defense to guard us and put two players on each of us,” Gasol said. “When we do that we’re very hard to stop. It’s not about San Antonio or any other team. It’s hard to match up with Andrew and myself.
“The (Spurs) have been very impressive. I’ve been impressed by the way that they play, the consistency. The way everyone chips in and fills their role. They’re so unselfish as always, they’re always unselfish. To have guys averaging 19/20 minutes and contributing the way they do is very rare. They do it in such an effective way that it’s impressive. They’re always up there. They’ll be very dangerous for the rest of the year.”
Dangerous isn’t enough to San Antonio, though. They want to be the best. If they can’t find an answer for the interior issues that they are inevitably going to encounter this season isn’t going to end with a parade, it’s going to end in a similar fashion to the last four years.