Just as soon as the Spurs get some media attention by waiving Stephen Jackson less than a week before the end of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers have to go out and upstage the rest of the league. They played their star so many minutes that he injured his leg a few times before going down for good in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors. One of the best Lakers to ever play, Kobe Bryant suffered a season ending injury, tearing the Achilles Tendon in his left leg. At the age of 34, he has played more seasons than even Tim Duncan (among the oldest players in the league) and still is in the top 2 in minutes played per game. The only player who averages more per game, Luol Deng, plays for a coach that is even more notorious than D'Antonio for riding his players hard -- Tom Thibodeau. Kobe injured his ankle a few weeks ago against the Atlanta Hawks in a play that received lots of attention due to the way Dahntay Jones managed to get a foot underneath Kobe as he came down after a jumper.
Bryant was out for two full games but came back stronger than ever, and played another 11 games before his injury Friday night, logging fewer than 40 minutes only three times and exceeding 45 in five games. Kobe is a competitor and keeps himself healthy, but players logging insane minutes have a tendency to break down. Luol Deng was hurt this season, and Joakim Noah has been out for a couple of weeks. In an 82 game season, players need to rest. Unfortunately for the Lakers' playoff chances, Kobe was not allowed the possibility of rest, and was ridden into the ground.
Sure, L.A. still has Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash (and Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake) but they can't go too far without their leader. Kobe was their offense for most of the season (no, the entire season) and without him, they might play better team basketball, but are unlikely to get anything productive out of their players. Will they undergo The Rondo Effect seen by the Celtics after Rajon went down with a torn ACL, or will they fall to lower depths? They have only the Rockets to defeat, and if they do, they'll make the playoffs, no matter the outcome of the Jazz's next two games.
Pop's Post-Game Quote
"We didn't match their energy at all. I just thought we sort of floated through the game."
Check out J. Gomez's recap if you haven't already.
The first three quarters of the game were very close, and the game was tied at the end of the second and third quarters (separated by a single point after the first). With Kobe out, and the Lakers roster thinner than rice paper, the close game meant that either the Lakers' post players were dominating the Spurs inside or the Spurs had their eyes and effort set on the postseason. Pau Gasol went 3/17, but had 16 rebounds, while Dwight Howard had 26 points on 8/17 shots while grabbing 17 rebounds. Dwight had a good game, but nothing that the Spurs shouldn't be able to overcome -- as long as they stopped the Lakers' role players.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, Steve Blake was on fire in the first half, while Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks carried the Lakers through the beginning of the fourth. With the Lakers trailing by one early in the quarter, Jamison hit three consecutive three pointers, only to be followed by a Pau Gasol layup sandwiched in between two Jodie Meeks threes. The Spurs tried to keep up, and were only down one after the Jamison barrage, but couldn't hold it together with the Lakers' outside barrage, and the problems were only compounded by the way the home team outworked the Spurs on the glass. Both teams shot terribly, but the Lakers were able to get more second chance opportunities, and stayed in the game long enough to put it away with a 21-11 run that took up more than half of the final quarter, putting the Spurs away for good.
The Spurs came within 4 at the end, but couldn't convert on their three final three point attempts. It was simply that type of game for the Spurs, in which nothing fell and they didn't play with enough energy. Parker, still not back in game shape, couldn't buy a bucket. Pop decided it was enough after he missed his first two shots in the 4th and rested him the rest of the game. But it was those five three pointers from Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks (all in just over 4 minutes) that put the Spurs away, as they opened a seven point lead that the good guys never recovered from.
In Kobe's absence, Dwight Howard had the opportunity to be *the* go-to guy on the Lakers, a role he has arguably been eyeing all season. He missed more than half of his free throw attempts, but made up for it by scoring 26 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and swatting 3 shots. He bulled Timmy and Tiago down low, and combined with Pau Gasol to corrall 35 rebounds. Good game for the oft-criticized center.
Tony had 8 assists, but that was not enough to overcome an off shooting night, in which he only hit one layup and missed 9/10 shots. Without Tony hitting shots, the Spurs' offense can't be the bulldozer that is was in the first half of the season.
Numbers of Note
- 22 - Tim Duncan is now 22nd overall in scoring (NBA). Active players ahead of Tim: Ray Allen (21st), Paul Pierce (20th), Dirk (17th), Garnett (15th) and Kobe (4th). Tim is within 250 points of Pierce and Allen, we'll see how much he trails once the playoffs are over. If Boston's postseason run is short and the Spurs get into the WCF ... who knows?
- 18 - Points scored by Steve Blake in the first half. He only added 5 in the second half, but he kept LA in the game early on. Without his unlikely explosion (a la Goran Dragic in 2010) the Lakers would have been playing from far behind, and the game would have likely gone much differently.
- 15% - Shooting percentage for the Spurs' point guards. Tony Parker, Nando De Colo and Cory Joseph each hit only one shot out of their combined 20. 2 of them were desperation attempts at the end of the game by Joseph, but if he's taken out of the equation, Parker and De Colo would still be a combined 2/16, resulting in an even a horrible 12.5%.
- -12 - Rebounding differential for the Spurs, who had 46 rebounds to the Lakers' 58. LA had 16 on the offensive end, which gave them one second-chance opportunity after another. Rest assured that'll be focused on in Pop's film session with the players today.
- 8 - Turnovers by the Spurs. The Lakers had 6 more, and the Spurs took advantage, scoring 20 points off of those mistakes. The home team didn't capitalize, (only 2 on 9 Spurs turnovers), but took more foul shots and were able to stay in the game with their good defense and timely shooting.
- 17 - Free Throws attempted by Dwight Howard. He hit 8 of them, for a clip less than 50%. Hack-A-Dwight really works! As seen on TV! Created by the inventor of Hack-A-Shaq! Not available in stores. Call today!
- 19 - Free Throws attempted by the Spurs, compared to the 31 by the Lakers. Subtracting Dwight, they only shot 14, but even so, they were called for 9 fewer fouls than the Spurs.
- 15-10 - The Spurs' record since the All-Star break, which they entered at 42-12. The Lakers were 25-29 and have gone 19-8 since then, against arguably lesser competition. Nevertheless, they defeated Indiana, Chicago and Memphis in that span (but lost to Phoenix, Washington and Milwaukee), showing they can defeat legitimate teams. The Spurs have gone 5-5 in their last 10, the worst record among Western Conference playoff hopefuls.
Odds & Ends
- The Spurs played terribly against the Lakers. They looked lethargic and were not driving it inside, seemingly scared by the twin towers of Howard and Gasol guarding the middle of the paint. Without the fearless driving ability of one Emanuel David Ginobili, the Spurs sorely miss a dose of any-time offense.
- Why is Gary Neal getting 30+ minutes? I think Danny Green should be out there for longer, even though he isn't as independent on the offensive end, but has the better sense to play within the system. There were countless times during the game where the Spurs were not passing the ball, and instead, Gary Neal took an ill-advised jumper. He was 5-13, had 4 assists, with no turnovers.
- Tim Duncan is amazing, and I don't ever get tired of saying that. In only 25 minutes, he had 23 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and a steal. Pau Gasol played 15 minutes longer and only grabbed 6 more rebounds and had fewer assists. I think Pop wants Tim to get some rest before the playoffs, so don't expect to see him play tonight against the Warriors. Tim showed why he should be All-NBA First Team. He doesn't get that many minutes a night, but he doesn't need to, and is very efficient in the time he does see the court. If he manages to keep up his level of play for 35+ in the playoffs, the Spurs will be tough to beat.
- Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison (who average 24 points combined) scored 46, nearly double their season average. Without great moments from these players, the Lakers would not have been in the game at all.
- For panicking Spurs fans, take solace in this: even though Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Nando De Colo and Cory Joseph each only hit one shot, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter both went 5-13, and Danny was 2-7 from three point range, the Spurs only lost by 5 points in a must-win game for the Lakers. They were out rebounded and shot fewer free throws, but were still in the game. Remember, the Spurs had some injuries of their own, and are not even close to playing their best ball.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to…
…start thinking about playoff match ups. The current standings have OKC at first, the Spurs at second, the Rockets at 6th (45-35), the Warriors at 7th with the same record (they lose the tiebreaker to the Rockets) and the Lakers at 8th. The Lakers can catapult to the 6th seed if Houston and Golden State choke away both of their upcoming games, and can even get to 7th if the Warriors lose both of their games, while Houston splits theirs (a win in Phoenix and a loss in Los Angeles). The Spurs will likely face either Golden State or Houston, both young teams that are highly efficient on the offensive end but are sieves on defense. This should be a good first round matchup for a recovering Spurs team that needs a soft defense to play around with.