Despite all of the struggles the San Antonio Spurs have suffered through the past month or so, the idea that the Los Angeles Lakers could (or can) "easily upset" the second Western Conference seed is laughable. Yes, several key players on the Spurs roster have had ongoing love affairs with the injury report. Yes, the Spurs offense has been a bit Charlotte-esque since mid-March. And, yes, the defense has statistically bottomed out in several areas (perimeter and rebounding). But the Lakers just walking over the Spurs to the second round? Not happening.
Aside from the fact that the Spurs are led by a trio of well-rested star players who statistically crank it up once game number eighty-two is in the rear-view mirror, the Lakers are one of the biggest train wrecks ever to grace the post-season. Los Angeles squeaked into the playoffs thanks to their slightly above-average play being enough to catch up to the Utah Jazz, a team whose backside had completely fallen off during the last two months of the season. In the regular season, the Lakers were 20-27 against teams above .500. To even consistently win games post-All-Star weekend, Los Angeles needed a Herculean effort from a one-man offense to get them over their defensive short-comings. The Lakers defense finished 22nd in points allowed, 14th in both opponent field goal percentage and opponent three-point percentage, and 29th in opponent turnovers.
Injuries and team chemistry have both been issues the entire season for Los Angeles. Dwight Howard started the season still recovering from back surgery and later suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Steve Nash, the ancient one, has been in and out of the injury listing all year. Kobe Bryant was slowly coming apart at the seams before his Achilles tendon finally tapped out during the final days of the season. But even when healthy, the lineup was never built for a Mike D'Antoni system of seven-seconds-or-less offense and a defense that would embarrass a Pop Warner basketball coach. D'Antonio couldn't apply his offense nor abandon his defensive deficiencies.
Of course, there are the notable internal power struggles between Head coach Mike D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant, D'Antoni and Pau Gasol, D'Antoni and Dwight Howard, Kobe and Howard, Kobe and Gasol, Kobe and the towel boy, Kobe and his personal masseuse. And so on and so on. And let's not forget the obvious in-season flirtations between Phil Jackson and Kobe. Even the unfortunate passing of Jerry Buss, which many in the national media propped up as a Lakers' rallying cry, wasn't enough to cease the squabbling and embolden the franchise.
The post-season is generally treated as a clean slate by teams, or rather the "start of the real season." Drama, excuses, and finger-pointing have no place in the playoffs. But the Lakers, baggage still in hand, now have the added burden of the twitter-fiasco from last night. I'd say "good luck" but I wouldn't mean it in any shape or form.
Standard Pre-Game Pop Quote
I don't really know. We're going really slow. We wanted another body just as an insurance policy. We don't know what's going to happen during the playoff series and we wanted to add someone. With Tracy, he's a pro. He knows how to play, he's a great passer, and he has a really high basketball IQ. It's just a matter of getting him in shape and, if a situation arises where we want to look to him, he'll be ready.
-Popovich on the progress of Tracy McGrady.
- Cory Joseph worked on getting his runners up high and over the arms of closing defenders as well as attacking the seams within the 1st and 2nd lines of defense.
- Joseph also spent time with assistant coaches working on operating through the various defensive reactions to a pick and pop play.
- It wasn't a great day for Nando De Colo. Nando completely messed up a drill with assistant coach Chip Engelland two times in a row. Engelland grabbed the ball and, without speaking, showed Nando what he needed to do.
- Richard Oliver of the San Antonio Express News sat courtside with me for a little bit. Richard believes the key to this series is Danny Greens's offensive production to help keep the Lakers' defense spread out.
- Nearly all of Danny Green's workout consisted of working off the ball. Green was also on fire from three-point range (2-5 in the game).
- It's difficult for me to convey just how much better Gary Neal is moving these days. A month ago, Neal ran slow, cautiously, and with minimal explosion. Neal looks like his old self now - and happy.
- Tracy McGrady started off cold but got hot once he nailed a few three-pointers off high screens.
- Tiago Splitter hit three consecutive three-pointers. Pounding the Rock's own janieannie went nuts - enough to where assistant coach Ime Udoka pointed her out to an appreciative Tiago.
Pop heard Alice in Chains is going to be in town on May 26th. - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The Essential Hash
The Spurs shot 33.3% in the third quarter last night (6-18 FG) but it was one of their better quarters in the past month. San Antonio tried to come out aggressively behind Tony Parker but their offensive output came to a screeching halt after the first two minutes. The Spurs went 4:40 without a single basket and with only 1 point from the charity stripe but their defense managed to keep the Lakers from drastically closing the gap within that stretch (3-8 FG). San Antonio was moving the ball effectively but just simply couldn't connect on the wide open looks.
After a Tony Parker pull-up jumper following a Spurs timeout, San Antonio went another 5:07 without a basket. Again, San Antonio's defense paired with excellent ball movement and aggressiveness kept things from going south. The Spurs kept pounding the rock with their offensive scheme, and it paid off, as the Spurs put themselves at the free throw line 10 times in the second half of the quarter (shot 11 of 12 in the quarter).
Los Angeles scored only 5 points in the final 2:47, with each one being "earned" at the charity stripe. The Lakers went 0 of 4 from the floor within that stretch and only 7 of 19 overall in the third. After going for 14 points in the first half, the Spurs focused their attention on getting the ball out of Dwight Howard's hands, sending help off of the perimeter. Howard wasn't able to get even one attempt up, but as a result of the "give and take," the Lakers were given several opportunities from deep. Even though their two best perimeter shooters took half of the looks, Los Angeles only managed a 1 for 6 effort. Each team turned it over three times in the quarter, however, only San Antonio was able to convert those opportunities into points (4-0).
I thought tonight was the best defense we've played in three or four weeks. It came at a good time.
-Coach Popovich on the Spurs defensive effort.
When the third quarter was all said and done, the Spurs managed to increase their halftime lead by five points - thanks to their dogged defense, dedication to the game plan, and an 8 point explosion in the final 90 seconds by last night's Game Boss (next section).
Manu Ginobili's energy and shot-creation completely rejuvenated a flat-lining Spurs offense. Manu's brightest moment came in the final 90 seconds of the third quarter, when he scored 8 points on 3 of 4 field goals. As Fred Silva said in last night's recap, Ginobili sensed the "Spurs' momentary vulnerability" and seized the game by its throat. Ginobili took on Pau Gasol one-on-one, driving right at the Lakers' forward for an easy layup. He followed it up with a pull-up three-pointer and then caught a fast-break pass from Joseph for another deep ball to finish the quarter.
It was great to have Manu back. He makes big shots, he creates problems for the opponent, and he's got a great will - a great desire. I'll worry all night about how he'll feel in the morning. If he says he feels great, that will be a good sign for our team.
-Coach Popovich on Manu's impact on the team.
Antawn was a void on both ends of the floor, starting it all off by drawing two quick fouls in his late first quarter appearance. Jamison was aggressively beat out on rebounds by smaller Spurs players and was victim on several San Antonio fast breaks. Cory Joseph was even matched up on Jamison for a long stretch and, outside of a few poor foul calls, the Lakers' forward couldn't capitalize on the mismatch.
"Well, I have no clue what I'm doing either, Heather." - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
By the Numbers
- 1 - Number of games the Spurs won in the regular season when shooting under 40% (1-6). That lone win was against (who else?) the Los Angeles Lakers on November 13th.
- 40 - Bench points for the San Antonio Spurs.
- 9 - Turnovers for San Antonio.
- 2 - Fastbreak points for the Los Angeles Lakers. San Antonio had 17.
- 115 - Number of seconds the Los Angeles Lakers held a lead in last night's game.
- 0 - Number of quarters that featured either team scoring over 50% from the floor.
- 22 - The highest number of points the Lakers scored in any quarter (15, 22, 20, 22).
- 3 - Blocks by the San Antonio Spurs, and none of them belonged to Tim Duncan (Leonard - 2, Blair 1).
- 119 - Number of playoff victories under Tim Duncan's belt.
Bird is the Word
Manu's numbers off the bench mean less than this: The ball moves better on the 2nd unit when he's on it. Trainwreck without him.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 21, 2013
The Spurs should have a special guest fouler against LA. Just pick someone out of the crowd, put 'em in a jersey, 6 free hugs with Dwight.— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) April 21, 2013
The difference between Cory Joseph an Darius Morris is the difference between developed in a stable environment with clear vision/execution— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) April 21, 2013
Ginobili is a straight up beast— Josh Childress (@JChillin) April 21, 2013
Manu doesn't jump when he rebounds, he falls out of the sky from heaven.— El Mero Mero (@SheaSerrano) April 21, 2013
- It's funny how the Lakers are trying to run the same offense that former Lakers Coach Mike Brown tried to install early on in the season. Post-Kobe injury, of course. Otherwise, last night's game would've been a 30-plus attempt night from the old guard.
- Steve Blake isn't exactly a speed demon like Tony Parker but he has great reactions and is very quick laterally.
- Metta World Peace was pretty physical with Kawhi Leonard throughout their entire matchup. It minimized Kawhi's offense opportunities, but it did not intimidate the second-year player at all.
- San Antonio was giving Metta World Peace plenty of opportunities to be a factor in the game. The Spurs kept rotating off of Metta at the top of the key to help double down on Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. World Peace would get the ball after floating out, but he just couldn't knock anything down.
- Cory Joseph did a heck of a job in his first ever NBA playoff game. Especially when you consider his age, experience, and the match-up against a storied franchise with a Hall of Fame point guard.
- Unless Cory vanishes, De Colo has almost zero chance of getting any real playoff minutes.
- Matt Bonner and Danny Green both hit three-pointers in the fourth quarter. I still don't believe it.
- Los Angeles had only 5 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. San Antonio's perimeter defense was fast and communicating well. I can't remember the last time it was that effective.
- Kobe Bryant is a distraction from roughly 1,200 miles away. Amazing, isn't it?
- Speaking of which, whoever asked Mike D'Antoni about Kobe Bryant's tweets needs to be slapped.
Going into the Playoffs, the Spurs Need to...
...do more of the same but, you know, hitting more of the open baskets would be a nice addition. Though not at the same frequency as the Spurs, the Lakers missed some wide open looks as well. Los Angeles has a handful of intelligent passers on the roster, so the Spurs will need to stay on top of their quick rotations when they send help into the paint. The last thing the Spurs need is the Lakers' sub-37% three-point shooters, which is everyone outside of Nash and Blake, to get hot off clean looks. The Spurs can't afford to pull their defensive focus off Howard and Gasol.