The San Antonio Spurs took a 2-0 lead in their playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a convincing win, 102-91. In a game in which both teams played well, the Spurs proved to be the better of the two Wednesday night. Prior to the game, Coach Gregg Popovich made the team's focus clear. "Game 1 was the first time in a while that we looked like the team that played the first 70 or so games of the season, defensively. That was our best defensive performance in a while, so I'm anxious to see if our team will do it again, as we did most of the year."
In Game 1, defense ruled the day as the Lakers only managed to shoot 41% from the field while the Spurs were held to 38%. In Game 2, once the teams got settled, both offenses seemed poised for better performances. In the first quarter, the Lakers connected on three 3-pointers, matching the total amount of 3-pointers they made in all of Game 1. In addition, the Lakers only turned it over once in the first, vastly improving from their 18 turnovers in the previous game.
The Spurs kept pace, however, behind strong first quarters from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. With 2:13 remaining in the opening quarter, the Spurs found themselves down 18-20. Manu Ginobili then scored twice and assisted on two more shots to help the Spurs close the quarter on a 10-3 run. Manu finished with a stat-stuffer of a game: 13 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block and a +/- of +19 in just 19 minutes of action.
One of the biggest 'ifs' facing the Spurs as they entered this postseason was, 'If Manu can get healthy and play like Manu....' Well, two games into the playoffs it would appear that Ginobili is healthy and playing at his former All Star level. Postgame, when asked if 19 minutes was about right for him, Manu responded, "No, I'm ready to play more. I'm ready to play my minutes. Around 25 to 30, what I usually play. I think I'm ready."
After the last game of the regular season against the Timberwolves, Manu told us in the locker-room that Pop stole 16 seconds of playing time from him. Pop apparently promised Manu 12 minutes and only played him 11:44. Then, after Game 1, Manu told us that he was ready to play his regular minutes. And again, tonight, he reminded everyone within earshot that he really is ready to play more. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that Popovich is being cautious in bringing him back. I just want to make the point that Popovich is being extremely cautious, and Manu has probably been capable of playing for a while now, which is why he looks so well-rested and explosive.
Leading 28-23 to begin the second quarter, the Spurs scored the first three points to increase their lead to eight. However, the Lakers were resilient throughout the night and closed the gap. With the game tied at 46 with two minutes remaining before half, it was once again time for Manu to take over. Thanks to two Manu 3-pointers and two Manu assists, the Spurs closed the second quarter on a 10-2 run.
After the game, a somber Coach Mike D'Antoni reflected on the Spurs' ability to close quarters. "That's why they're good. They are a veteran team and they have go-to plays that are very efficient and we struggled a little bit at the end of quarters. It shouldn't be a big reason, but today it was huge in the first quarter and the second quarter when we couldn't close it out. That set the tone."
Those two runs, fueled by Manu Ginobili, did set the tone for the second half. Though the Lakers never allowed it to get out of hand, the Spurs spent the half in control of the game. After looking very rusty in Game 1, finishing with an inefficient 18 points on 21 shots, Tony finished the first half of Game 2 looking even worse. He managed to score only 4 points going 1 of 6 from the field.
However, Tony Parker found himself in the third quarter and led the Spurs to victory with 24 second half points. Tony made sure that the Lakers never got closer than six points in the third quarter, and Parker helped the Spurs push their lead to 17 in the fourth. The Lakers managed to cut it to 10, but a Bonner 3-pointer cut their comeback well short, and the Spurs held on to win comfortably, 102-91.
The Spurs' defense once again was impressive in holding the Lakers to 45% shooting from the field and 36% from distance. The Spurs also registered seven blocks and seven steals and managed to deter Howard enough so that he only took 12 shots. In his postgame remarks, Coach Pop commented on his team's defensive performances. "I thought we played two pretty decent games on the defensive end of the court. We did it for most of the year... and we got it back for these two games. We'll see if we can continue to play good defense, both individually and team-wise, when we get out to LA."
Pop being Pop, one would have to assume that he's not going to allow his team to forget what contributed most to their first two wins of the postseason. I think we can expect a comparable defensive performance in Los Angeles.
-- Matt Bonner, heretofore a perennial choke artist when it came to the postseason, has strung together two incredible performances. He scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds, and had 3 steals, 1 assist and a block in 29 minutes. That all looks fine, but his most telling boxscore statistic was a whopping +/- of +29. Bonner relentlessly fought Dwight Howard on both ends of the court for position. Then, on the offensive end, he hit very timely shots that completely devastated the Lakers' attempts at coming back in the second half. Truly, it was a memorable night for the Red Mamba.
-- Danny Green quietly played one of the worst games I've ever seen out of him. He scored two points and had two turnovers for a +/- of -14. The worst part about it was that he was going head-to-head against Steve Nash for most of the game. Steve Nash was playing on one leg. Nash is playing through injuries to his hamstring, hip and back right now, yet still managed to embarrass Green on the floor.
-- The Lakers have even more injury concerns. Guard Jodie Meeks missed Game 2 with an injured ankle. After the game, Steve Nash told reporters that he tweaked his back and wasn't sure if he'd be able to play Friday. In addition, Steve Blake seemed to have pulled his hamstring in the waning moments of the fourth. If Blake is hobbled, the Lakers will be in a lot of trouble as he was their only substantial healthy frontcourt player remaining.
-- Kawhi Leonard played an all-round great game. His defense was excellent and he made 8 of his 12 shots for 16 points. He also pulled down seven contested rebounds. Kawhi's rebounds are ones that if he didn't get, the opposition would. He has a knack for snatching up those long rebounds that take a bad bounce and end up 15 feet away from the basket. Those are the deadly boards that can easily turn into offensive rebounds for the other team and then, easy points. His help on the boards tends to slip under the radar so I wanted to be sure to emphasize just how critical those are to the Spurs' defensive success. Kawhi ends defensive possessions for the Spurs.
-- Tony Parker looked like MVP Tony in the second half. That was the other big 'if' heading into the postseason. "If Manu is Manu and if Tony can be MVP Tony...." Well, it seems that the other side of the 'if' is working out in the Spurs' favor, too. His 24 second half points exemplified Parker's competitiveness. His shot was never really falling. He scored those points by relentlessly attacking the rim and sacrificing his body.
-- Tim Duncan had 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in 34 minutes. Tim, as always, was the backbone of the Spurs' defense tonight. If you credit this win to the Spurs' defensive performance, then you have to credit Tim. He greatly controlled the tempo of the game through his defense.