If you endured the 45 minutes or so of head-scratching (and head-bandaging) play, you were rewarded with a surprisingly thrilling finish to Friday night's game, as the San Antonio Spurs relied on some big shots and a few key stops to walk out of the Staples Center with the win.
Playing without Tim Duncan (chest contusion) the Spurs fell behind early in this one, hitting only two of their first 12 shots. The misses came on open looks from the perimeter and contested shots at the rim, as the Lakers took chances on defense that seemed to pay off in the first quarter. The Spurs offense failed to find any rhythm, and LA gave up very little against the pick-and-roll.
On the other end of the floor, both teams seemed content to allow Pau Gasol to shoot from the top of the key, which didn't seem to work out to Pop's liking. Pau knocked down three of his six jumpers early on, including one three-pointer, which led to an early benching of Tiago for Aron Baynes.
Baynesie missed a few rotations on defense, and his shots (which all looked good) simply didn't fall. Still, Pop kept him the big man in the game, perhaps seeing if he could play through it, which could be a sign of his confidence in him moving forward.
Patty Mills was once again the guy who replaced Tony at the end of the first. Mills didn't shoot as well as he has in the past (just 2 for 6) but his full-court pressure caused one turnover and almost a second. If Patty can compensate for off-nights with this kind of defensive intensity, I don't see him losing the backup PG job.
Still the Lakers lead quickly grew to double digits in the second quarter, after turnovers by Baynes and Patty Mills. Pulling both guys out, Pop turned to Parker who, instead of using pick-and-rolls, started coming around curls to find his shot and create off the dribble. The result was a comeback that had San Antonio down 42-41 at the half.
Boris Diaw got the start in Tim Duncan's place, and if his play through the first two games is anything to go by, Pop will be sending more of his guys to see Indian gurus. From midway through the third quarter on, the offense went through the Land Walrus, who got all 14 of his points in the second half.
Diaw was the story for the final 18 minutes, and much of his impact on the game won't show up on the stat sheet. His defense was solid, giving up very little to his man on post-ups. On the other end, he consistently made the right pass once he drew the double team.
Still the Lakers kept this game close through to the end, thanks to Pau's consistent shooting and scoring from Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson, and, with 3:35 remaining, the game was tied at 80 apiece. After getting stuffed by Johnson on his shot with the 24-second clock winding down, Kawhi Leonard won the tip, getting the ball to Tony who knocked down a big shot from the elbow. 82-80 Spurs.
Pau made a free throw for the Lakers, and the next Spurs possession it was Diaw coming up big, finding himself open for three and, without hesitating, draining the 27-footer to put SA up by four. After another stop, Diaw found Tiago underneath with a great pass. Tiago missed the shot, but was able to follow it up with a tip-in that had the Spurs up 87-81.
After making it 87-83, the Lakers got the ball back with 20 seconds left. They drew up a play for Jodie Meeks, who was stripped on the way to the basket by Manu. As both teams fought for the ball, it was Diaw who ended up with it, finding Manu on the other end for an easy, and surprisingly springy, two-handed jam. The game was over after that.
- Boris Diaw's assertiveness early on can't go overlooked. He's now scored 14 points in each game, and his entire offensive game, including his excellent passing, opens up once he gets going.
- Manu and Tony both looked like their old selves. In a good way.
- Kawhi's shot wasn't quite there tonight, as he missed all four of his looks from long range and made another two with his foot on the line. Still he found a way to leave his mark on the game, grabbing 11 boards and staying active on D. He also didn't let his shooting (or foul trouble) affect his aggressiveness, which is key. At one point in the second quarter when he was just 2 for 7 from the field, Kawhi took his man off the dribble, finishing with the easy and-one. On most nights his shot will be there, but it's good to see the youngster continue to stay within the flow of the game through his struggles.
- That said, Kawhi did pass on one open look and Pop absolutely let him know it right after.
- One of Diaw's many statistically unsung plays came on a loose ball on the defensive end following his clutch three-pointer. After boxing out Jordan Hill (who'd been giving the Spurs fits on the offensive glass) Diaw jumped - and I use that term loosely - out of bounds to save the ball, knocking it off of Hill to get the Spurs the possession.
- The aforementioned play had to go under review as it occurred with less than two minutes left, which resulted in more than a lifetime's worth of slow-motion Boris Diaw.
- You may know this already, but the Kobe-less Lakers are going to be a tough out most nights. They take chances on D and don't give up many easy baskets around the rim. Oddly enough, it's Steve Nash who now seems like the bad fit in D'Antoni's haphazard team.
- Tiago's biggest impact on the game was on the offensive glass; he had seven offensive boards (14 in total), and kept many key plays alive.
- After not playing the entire game, Cory Joseph was put in for the game's final defensive stand - proof that Pop still sees some use in CoJo after seemingly giving the backup job to Patty.
The Spurs barely have time to think about this win, as they head up the coast to take on the Trail Blazers Saturday - the second of this three-game road trip. There's no word yet on when Tim Duncan will return, after bruising his chest in the season-opener against Memphis. Stay tuned and we'll let you know as soon as there's any news on that.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Quick Cap: Spurs escape from LA with 91-85 win
- GameThread for San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers, Nov 1, 2013 9:30pm CDT - Part 2
- The rumors of Ginobili's demise were greatly exaggerated
- J.R. Wilco talks about the Spurs win over the Grizzlies on The Phil Naessens Show
- Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers