For anyone willing to cast aside the Lakers as a threat to contend in the West (and I know there are some of you out there), do so at your own risk. A Kobe-less Los Angeles team came into the AT&T Center and rode the 7-foot-1 Andrew Bynum to a 98-84 win over a Spurs team that lacked competitiveness in their first matchup of the season with the purple and gold. Bynum's size and ability overwhelmed the San Antonio frontcourt as the All-Star grabbed a career-high 30 rebounds to go along with 16 points, and as ridiculous as the shots were that Metta World Peace was hitting, the truth of the matter was simple: the Lakers won the rebound battle 60-33 and flat out drove the Spurs into the ground.
Bynum's career night - which he felt so good about - was just one of the problems Los Angeles gave the home-standing Spurs tonight. As I briefly mentioned before, World Peace (It feels as weird to write that as it does to read it, I assure you) was unconscious from the floor, hitting everything from fallaway jumpers to flatfooted set shots to last-second heaves. Everything was going in. When Metta leads your team with 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting, results will generally be positively affected for your team. And this all came on a night when Kobe Bryant was sitting in street clothes with tenosynovitis (I've never, EVER heard of this), which is generally a good thing for a team. But with the way the Lakers match up with the Spurs, it wasn't a problem on this night.
With no Kobe in the lineup Los Angeles attacked the paint through its frontcourt early and often. Bynum and Pau Gasol took turns getting their shots off from different sides of the paint by going after San Antonio's weaker interior defenders, which means everyone except Tim Duncan. By keeping Duncan in the help position all night, or even keeping him out of the play defensively all together, the Lakers were able to exploit ultra-favorable matchups while neutralizing by far San Antonio's best rim protector. Whether it was DeJuan Blair or Matt Bonner, and to a lesser extent Tiago Splitter, the L.A. bigs were relentless in their assault on the rim. And the reality of the situation was Blair and Bonner have zero chance against Gasol and Bynum.
Andrew Bynum didn't shoot well tonight, as he made clear in his post-game interview, but a career-high 30 rebounds can make up for that. The Spurs as a whole barely outrebounded Bynum, 33-30. No word on whether or not Bynum and his sock-o-rama look were attending any sort of sock hop following the game.
The thing about size is it affects every aspect of the game. And it's not just that the Lakers have size, but the big men they do have are of the highest quality. When you have that sort of pedigree in the paint it must be respected more so than your average NBA team, and that respect often results in easier offense overall. As well as the Spurs have done augmenting their depth, rotation and talent pool, they still lack size in the frontcourt, and Los Angeles exploited that. Andrew Bynum is an absolute nightmare for the Spurs as evidenced by the numbers he put up in this one, and Blair is basically rendered useless in this matchup. Blair's energy and hustle - normally very effective assets - are negated by the length of the Lakers, and his defense basically becomes non-existent and at the mercy of perhaps the most talented center in the NBA. We saw it a bit last year in the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, when Blair struggled mightily with their big, physical front line. Gregg Popovich elected to go with the longer, but less experienced, Tiago Splitter to match up. It makes you wonder if we might not see something similar again this year when the playoffs begin and the trees are taller. Blair started the third quarter, played less than two minutes and never saw the floor again the rest of the night. (His crew sitting near the baseline with chains that cost more than my apartment looked as bummed as any NBA player's posse can possibly look.)
You know that feeling when you were like 14 years old and your little cousin was, say, 10, and you were like a foot taller than he was? I remember being able to just stand under the hoop, extend my arms and get any rebound I wanted by simply reaching over the top while my little cousin gave maximum effort to get up and snag the ball to no avail. That's what Bynum did to Blair. (Yes, I'm comparing myself to Bynum and my little cousin to Blair.) Anyway, just trying to create a visual.
And again, it's not just the size that makes these guys so dangerous, it's the combination of that along with their skill sets that create devastation against undersized players. Because of the ease with which they're able to post and face up, San Antonio was forced to bring help when the two were attacking away from Duncan. The Spurs typically do not like to double team, and tonight showed why. San Antonio did this for years when Duncan was in his prime, and we all saw it. They ran "Four Down" whenever a bucket was needed and dumped the ball to Timmy on the block. Few in the league had any chance to defend Duncan 1-on-1 when the Hall-of-Famer was in his prime, so when the inevitable double team came from whichever angle the opposition tried to confuse him with, the big man found open spot-up shooters for dagger three-pointers. While it's not quite the same here, you get the idea. When the perimeter defense is forced to collapse on the interior it leaves open shots from above the arc, and the Lakers exploited that (along with some pretty poor backcourt defense) by hitting 11 threes. Matt Barnes and Steve Blake also were big contributors in this one, combining for 23 points off a bench that isn't typically very dangerous.
But we can break down what we saw all night, the fact of the matter is the reason for the loss is pretty simple: you can't lose the rebound battle 60-33. And furthermore, you can't let ONE PLAYER nearly match your entire team's output on the boards. As ugly as it looked, other than the massive rebound totals the Lakers weren't great. San Antonio held L.A. to under 45 percent from the floor and only allowed 12 free-throw attempts. The Spurs matched them point for point in the paint (32 apiece) and had more assists than the Lakers on the night. San Antonio even hit more threes (13) at a better clip (54.2 percent) than the opposition, but being outrebounded like that makes it nearly impossible to come out with a win.
So really, there's a bit of a silver lining in this for the Spurs and their fans. If it weren't for the egregiously poor performance on the boards we might be talking about a different result right now. If San Antonio had done its job on the glass the rest of the stats might have played out in the Spurs' favor. But this was just one of those nights. Not only were they significantly outrebounded, but the overall shooting percentage (40.7 percent) was bad, and that was taking into account the very high three-point percentage the Spurs connected on tonight. But despite all the silver linings - the crazy shots that went in for the Lakers, the low turnover rate (just seven) and the threes made - the main problem the Spurs have in their matchup with the Lakers was blatantly obvious tonight. The interior size of L.A. was way too much to handle, and if you get blasted on the boards like this in a playoff matchup nothing good will come out of it. It might be just one stat out of many, but the impact rebounds have on a game is tremendous. Offensive boards put a ton of stress on an opposing defense to perform for longer periods of time than is preferred, and defensive rebounds give teams just one shot at the basket, which puts a premium on shooting a high percentage. Both these things are nearly a direct result of quality size in the paint.
Not only that, but looking at San Antonio's high percentage from three and terrible shooting percentage overall you can see the shots in the paint were not going in, which can also be attributed to the Lakers' ability to alter attempts and cut off penetration. The Spurs thrive on getting in the paint and scoring, and because of that they're able to pass out for great looks from outside. But the inside looks just weren't there. Tony Parker managed only four points on 2-for12 shooting, and while he accumulated eight assists in 26 minutes he's most effective when he's scoring. He couldn't get the angles to the basket he usually takes advantage of, and it hurt the offensive flow.
At times, Tony was able to get to his spots, but he seemed uncomfortable all night.
It's funny isn't it, how a Lakers team without Kobe Bryant can seem more frightening to the Spurs than it does with him in uniform? Tonight, L.A.'s main focus was pounding the ball in the paint and going after everything that bounced off the rim, which left Spurs fans praying for Kobe's 23 shots a game. (Just to be clear: sarcasm is fun and all, but the Lakers are NOT better without Bryant.) While I don't expect we'll see such a disparity on the boards again this year, a weakness was once again revealed in San Antonio's force field. It's been covered up for a little while now, masked by the relentless success of the team's depth, experience, energy and scoring output. But in the NBA, size definitely matters. You can gameplan against it, but only to an extent, and you can out-hustle it, but often only for a period of time. What the Lakers have in that department, the Spurs don't. Again, this was not a good performance by any means for the Spurs, and the fact the problem tonight was so identifiable and consolidated should give them confidence they can work to be better prepared when they see the Lakers again twice in the next eight days.
Popovich and each player interviewed talked about a lack of competitiveness being the primary factor in the drubbing, and if that's the case we're looking at something totally correctable. While size certainly affects rebounding totals, so to does effort and competitiveness to nearly the same extent. In fact, there might not be a statistic in this sport more affected by hustle and energy than rebound totals. And really, outside a third quarter which the Lakers won 27-16, the Spurs were only outscored by just three points in the other three quarters combined. I do think that was a result of good fortune - the Lakers missed a bunch of shots - but it still illustrates how this game was right there for the Spurs despite problems rebounding the ball.
But still, they say you can't teach size. And because of that, as the playoffs approach, the Spurs should consider avoiding the Lakers like the plague.
- Manu Ginobili scored nine points in the game, passing the 10,000-point mark for his career.
- Danny Green was the brightest spot for the Spurs with 22 points, including 5-for-6 from behind the arc. Although, 14 of those points came in the fourth quarter when the game was basically out of reach.
- San Antonio only had two players in double figures (Duncan's 14 complemented Green) and scored just 84 points, the second-lowest point total of the year and second consecutive night in which they've scored 84 points. 79 points was the lowest during a Jan. 27 game against Minnesota.
- Bynum's 19 first-half rebounds was a Spurs franchise record for most individual rebounds given up in a first half.
Follow along on Twitter if you'd like: @mtynan_PtR