[Editor's Note: Matthew Tynan's recap will follow shortly. In the meanwhile, here is an opinion piece from Fred Silva to add to the discussion. -jrw]
Basketball at its core is a game of confidence. Confidence controls the momentum of the game; it controls the tone and when managed well, leads to offensive runs and defensive stops. Confidence leads to wins while the lack of confidence ends in defeat. It's the coach's job to manage the team's confidence throughout the game. The coach has tools at his disposal that allow him to manage confidence. He can call specific plays, he can call timely timeouts, he can change his lineup, and he can adjust his game-plan. I didn't see Gregg Popovich do any of the above in tonight's blowout loss to the Lakers. For that reason, I say this one is on him.
Everyone familiar with the two teams understood the Lakers' advantage. They have two elite seven footers. Especially with Kobe sitting out, the Lakers' only chance at winning was to dominate the paint. The Spurs needed to control this game from the start. The first quarter was critical to the Spurs' chances. Had the Spurs come out and put the Lakers' in their place, the game would have been over before it had a chance to get going. The Lakers had all the excuses in the world ready to go. No Kobe. It's in San Antonio. The Spurs are hot. Mike Brown is our coach. One of our players gives himself random names for no reason. The excuses were limitless.
So, our keys to the game were to control the paint and manage the boards. Again, this is not up for argument. It's too obvious for that. Popovich decided to start his usual lineup of Parker, Green, Leonard, Blair, and Duncan. I argue that this was a huge mistake. What was obvious before the game began is now indisputable. DeJuan Blair is too small to guard an elite big man.
But fine, it's been our starting lineup for the majority of the season and it's worked out well so far; so I'll just move on before I throw something. After five minutes of dominance, was it not clear that DeJuan was going to single-handedly give the Lakers all the confidence and momentum the game had to offer? Pop's first substitution to counteract the Lakers' paint dominance was none other than Matt Bonner. Later, he replaced Tim with Tiago. None of his moves in the first half addressed the humongous pink seven foot elephant in the room that pulled down 19 boards before intermission.
At some point in the first half, would it not make sense to trot out two seven footers at the same time to guard their two seven footers? At the very least, why not throw Diaw out there with Tim? He may be undersized, but relative to Bonner and Blair, he's huge. Popovich rode his stubborn lineups into defeat. He refused to change his course. His lineups gave the Lakers' the confidence and momentum, and once they had it, the game was decided.
The silly thing about confidence is that it's contagious for everyone on the floor. After five minutes of rebounding dominance, suddenly the entire Lakers' team was scrapping for every board. Suddenly a crazy old guy that averages 7 points a game finds the zone for the first time in five years. Everyone on the Lakers' team caught the confidence bug as Popovich sat on the antidote.
Why not match their seven footers with our seven footers? Every time one of their bigs takes a breather, we sub ours. We match their seven footers, minute for minute, with our best chance at slowing them down. In this perfect world, we play a big lineup across the board by always having Jack or Kawhi on the floor. Green and Manu platoon in the two spot while Tony and Patty split the one. Diaw and Bonner are our big man subs and that's it. We never, ever go small and that should allow us to battle for every board, with players big enough to put up a fight.
There are so many simple things that could have been done that may have shifted the momentum. Oh, here's the other thing about confidence; when the other team has it, that means you don't. And confidence is not limited to one side of the court. It will kill your offense just as quickly as it helps theirs.
Tonight, the confidence was resting in the paint. Pop sent in Blair to fight it away from Bynum. Here's your final vote of confidence on that score: Bynum 30, Blair 4.