The Lakers began this game one ahead of the Utah Jazz and entered knowing that Kobe had a torn Achilles heel. So, you knew they needed this one. The Spurs still had (technically have) a chance of getting the first seed but have seemed more interested in reintegrating Tony Parker into the fold and getting everyone ready for the playoffs. While the Lakers definitely got closer to the playoffs with this win, this game really does not seem auspicious for either of the Spurs' goals.
The first quarter saw the Lakers running their offense through Dwight Howard in the post. Howard used his strength and explosion to score on Tim Duncan, but Timmeh responded on the other end with jumpers, countering Dwight's ten first quarter points with eight of his own. The Spurs, who theoretically had a huge advantage at guard and wing, decided to also run their offense through their bigs, with Duncan and Splitter combining for 13 of the Spurs 19 shots. That benefited the Lakers who managed to survive without a consistent perimeter scoring threat in the first period.
The Lakers found that outside threat they will be missing with Kobe out in Steve Blake, at least for one quarter. In the second, Blake was the offense for LA, scoring 14 points on 4-4 shooting from beyond the arc. With Tony Parker clearly not 100% right now (he didn't play in the 4th quarter), the Spurs went to other guard options off the bench. Nando De Colo struggled in the first half while Joseph did OK on a short stint. But it was Gary Neal and Danny Green who balanced things out for the Spurs with five points each. The Spurs weathered the storm of three pointers by not turning the ball over, which was a nice change of pace after a sloppy first quarter. Going into the break, the game was tied at 43.
The 3rd quarter was even more defense-oriented and had and even slower pace. The Spurs decided the put Howard on the line and it mostly worked, as the Lakers center went 4-11 from the charity stripe. But a low scoring, half court battle benefited the plodding Lakers more than the Spurs, who couldn't find a consistent scorer in the quarter. When the Spurs run, they scored, as attested by their 10 fast break points. But with Howard at the line so much, those chances were scarce. After three quarters, the game was still tied, this time at 61.
The 4th quarter seemed like the perfect moment for the Spurs to pull away and had they done it, I'd be writing a very different recap right now, saying that at this point a win is a win. But the Spurs allowed the Lakers to go 5-9 from three and surprisingly didn't intentionally fouled Howard when the Lakers were building their lead. For all intents and purposes, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison beat the Spurs in this one and that should never happen. Tim Duncan heroically did everything he could to keep the team in it but several missed rotations or instances of over helping plus some erratic play from the Spurs' guards were too much for even Timmy to overcome. The Lakers came away with the win, 91-86.
- The Lakers were missing Nash and Bryant and the Spurs were missing Manu and, basically Parker. Tony should be sitting right now to get in shape for the playoffs, as he's clearly not 100% back yet. If he has no risk of aggravating his many minor injuries then, by all means, he should keep playing. Otherwise, shut him down until the playoffs and let's face the seventh seed as healthy as possible. Oh, Boris Diaw and Jordan Hill were out too. Both teams were shorthanded, basically.
- With Tony unable to produce, the Spurs needed at least one of Cory Joseph or Nando De Colo to pick up the slack. They couldn't, even against a downright horrendous Lakers guard rotation. They combined for 2-10 from the field and only one assist. Cory looked a bit better but neither did anything to inspire confidence thinking about the playoffs.
- Gary Neal, man. He is who he is. When he is on, he can change a game for you. When he isn't, he is one of the most hateable players out there. If I read you the stat line (12 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals) it looks great but his decision making is so inconsistent. With 54 second left and the Spurs down four, the Spurs run the court. Neal pump faked at the three point line and then pulled up with a defender in his face. The Spurs didn't need a three pointer and there were 20 seconds left in the shot clock. If he hits it, the recap would be about how clutch Neal is, so I won't come down too hard on him.
- Blair couldn't keep his string of good performances going against the Lakers. Pop only gave him 13 minutes in which he committed three personal fouls but pulled down four boards. The LA front line is just too big for DeJuan but he should be able to hold his own against most playoff teams, so I'm not worried. Yet.
- Splitter and Bonner did better, although neither actually shined. Splitter got another double-double (11 points, ten boards) and got three blocks and two steal but he wasn't efficient from the field or the free throw line. Bonner did a solid job on Gasol and hit a couple of three pointers but he only pulled down one board. Not a bad game for either but nothing to write home about.
- Danny Green had a good game tonight. He scored 16 points on eight shots, got 3 boards and a couple of assists. Danny took mostly good shots and even dunked on a fastbreak, you guys!
- The other perimeter starters didn't do quiet as well. A hobbled Parker went 1-10 and turned it over four times while Kawhi Leonard sort of disappeared. MWP was on him but like LD pointed out to me on Twitter, he should have attacked anyway. The Spurs need someone to break defenses down by penetrating and even though that's clearly not Kawhi's forte yet, he needs to deliver in games like this. Hopefully, Tony and Manu will be ready for the playoffs and he won't have to step out of his comfort zone, because he doesn't seem ready yet.
- The Lakers will likely make the playoffs but I don't see them even scaring OKC. Howard has been playing better and Gasol is ridiculously talented but that guard rotation is dreadful, even with Steve Nash in it. Of course, I would love to be proved wrong, Lakers. Beat OKC for us, please.
- Finally, Timothy Theodore Duncan is a god amongst men. Timmy had 23 points, ten boards, four assists and three blocks against Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. He even had a couple of rim rattling dunks in the 4th quarter that should have energized his teammates but somehow didn't. Timmy wanted this one but the rest of the team couldn't help get it for him.
The Spurs have the second seed secured and the first seed seems like it has slipped through their fingers at this point. It's likely both Parker and Duncan rest tomorrow on the SEGABABA against the Warriors but that's fine. Let's just get everyone rested and healthy for the playoffs.
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