Spurs defense looks to maintain its dominance in Game 2

USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers team that takes the floor tonight in Game 2 won't be much different than the one we saw in Game 1, not without Kobe Bryant on the floor.

Los Angeles will continue to pound the ball inside with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, and when the Spurs defense collapses on them — and it will all night long — they'll keep kicking it out to Metta World Peace (who is just weeks removed from tearing his freaking meniscus) and a pregnant Steve Nash (isn't that what epidurals are for?), with neither player appearing to be in any kind of form resembling playoff rhythm. But without the dynamic Bryant provides, and a backcourt lacking in off-the-dribble playmakers, the inside-out game is really all the Lakers have to lean on, no matter how clearly the Spurs see it coming.

If San Antonio can continue to execute the way it did on both sides of the ball in Game 1, the shots will inevitably fall and a 2-0 advantage heading to L.A. is likely. Tim Duncan said as much. Well, without predicting a win.

"Not much has changed. We're happy about the outcome obviously, (we'll make) a couple of little tweaks to the gameplan, but all in all, if we come out and execute how we did in Game 1 we like where we're at," he said at practice on Monday. "They're going to make some adjustments as well ... so we have to make sure we bring the energy and don't be happy with the win. We've got to get this thing up to 2-0."

If the Lakers continue to miss 3-pointers — they went 3-for-15 from beyond the arc on Sunday — the tactical adjustments they make will matter little. L.A. must go inside to its bigs, but it would be most beneficial to change the way that plan is executed.

The Spurs didn't do much to disguise their own plan on defense, either. Nearly every time Gasol or Howard received the ball on the block — according to Synergy, 27 of the Lakers 103 plays resulted in a post-up — San Antonio defenders were hedging down from the perimeter and helping defend down low. The goal was clear: make life difficult inside and force Los Angeles to create plays from outside as often as possible.

It worked, for one game, at least.

"We can't leave (the Spurs' bigs) on an island like that. We need to help them and do the same stuff we were doing in Game 1. It worked out pretty well for us," Tony Parker said. "We know we have to play our best defensively if we want to beat the Lakers."

Parker went on to say the Spurs aren't counting on Los Angeles shooting 20 percent from deep tonight.

"They have great shooters. They're going to make shots," he said. "They missed a lot of shots, so I expect them to shoot a little bit better."

But San Antonio will take its chances. The Lakers' best shooters aren't healthy, and a guy like Antawn Jamison is as streaky as it gets, so the plan won't change much. Still, while L.A. might not be capable of a drastic change of plan — at this point in the season, no team is, really — it's fair to expect subtle differences in the way it approaches its post-up situations.

The Spurs made a concerted effort to stay behind Gasol and Howard on the block, inviting the dump-down in the post for the most part. It played a part in lulling the Lakers into a slow, repetitive game on the offensive end. If I had to guess, that's what will change most significantly. Expect a fair amount of interior screening, as Los Angeles will likely attempt to get quicker looks in the post before help can arrive. That makes it necessary for the Lakers to find ways to get great position around the basket, potentially earlier in the shot clock than is the norm.

But, as Gregg Popovich said, this is about the players on the court, not the coaches' adjustments. Pop told us before the game, he's interested to see if the team he saw in Game 1 was the real thing.

"I thought that was the first time in a while that we looked like the team that played the first 70 or so games, defensively. We had done a good job of getting into that top tier of defensive teams, and then, for a variety of reasons, it dissipated," he said. "But that was our best defensive performance in a while. I'm anxious to see if that's really our team or not tonight."

Regardless, no matter what either team has in store that might change the look of what's happening on the court, Pop said his job is to not complicate things for his players. They know what they're doing. They've been here before.

"I think overall, over a whole series, the number or magnitude of adjustments is definitely overrated," he said. "I think there are certain tweaks that are made, and then there might be one or two adjustments that are made — a personnel change or a defensive change or that kind of thing that helps win a game here or there."

We'll see if one of those games takes place tonight.

Be sure and read the recent work from Jesus Gomez and Cameron Archer for a more in-depth look ahead.

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