No one will weep for the Lakers and no one should; they are one of the most successful franchises in all of sports and will very likely re-sign arguably the best center in basketball to a new contract that will lock him up through his prime. But this season, karma has struck the Lakers with a vengeance after so many years of good fortune.
It was clear from the start that the Spurs smelled blood and were not going to let this chance slip away. The Lakers were missing both their starters and reserves at both guard spots and they were coming home after two losses. Kawhi Leonard picked up where he left off in game two and scored six of his 12 points in the opening period while Tim Duncan punished the Laker bigs from outside to the tune of eight first quarter points. Pau Gasol did what he could to keep the Lakers close but the starting back-court of Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock struggled to start the game and Metta World Peace couldn't find his shot. The Spurs finished the first up 12, 30-18, and it was hard to picture a way the Lakers could turn things around.
But with Manu Ginobili unable to spark a bench run for the third straight game, the Spurs couldn't pull away for good. Pop deployed the Bonner-Blair pairing and the Lakers took advantage of the Spurs' lack of height. Goudelock, who was loosely guarded by Ginobili, caught fire and scored 12 points while Howard pitched in eight. Parker led a balanced team scoring effort for the Spurs with eight of his own. The Lakers only managed to shave one point off the lead, but it could have been worse had Howard hit more than four of his eight free throw attempts. Going into the break, the Spurs were up by 11.
Any chance the Lakers had to win dissipated in the third, as Duncan and Parker seemed determined to put them away for good. With Gasol disappearing as a scoring threat, Morris and Goudelock did what they could to keep the Lakers afloat but they were simply over-matched. Dwight Howard got increasingly frustrated with the officials and after he was whistled for a fourth foul with 4:44 to go and the Lakers down 17; the game was pretty much over. The Spurs finished the third up 22 points and the entire fourth quarter was garbage time for the Spurs to increase their lead to a whopping 31 points, en route to giving the Lakers their worst ever playoff loss at home for a commanding 3-0 series lead.
- Duncan and Parker made sure there were no surprises in this one. Each had his jumper falling and, as is usually the case when that happens, there was nothing the Lakers defense could do to contain them. Timmy and Tony combined for 46 points, 10 assists and 12 boards.
- While Kawhi Leonard made his mark early, Danny Green took advantage of the lax defense from the Lakers in the second half to snap out of his funk. Neither was too good from beyond the arc, but they provided the scoring Manu brought in the first two games of the series.
- Matt Bonner had another good overall game while DeJuan Blair struggled early. Blair's stat line looks great, but he got most of those numbers in garbage time. With Splitter missing time, the Spurs will need more from Blair.
- Speaking of Splitter, that sprain looked nasty. He left the arena on crutches and it looks like he could be out a week to ten days. Tiago wasn't putting up gaudy stats, but his workmanlike approach to defense and his hustle will be missed in game four. If I were Pop I would start Baynes to try to match the Lakers' physicality early and keep the bench how it is.
- Manu Ginobili was a bit quiet tonight but he showed flashes. Cory Joseph had another solid, if unspectacular, game. The rest of the bench was not particularly good but on this occasion it wasn't needed.
It was hard for me to verbalize it earlier but what the Lakers looked like in my eyes on game three was a rebuilding team in the early stages. It's crazy, considering they have almost $100 millions in committed salary but injuries have absolutely decimated this team. They have a couple of great players, a few inconsistent young guys trying to figure things out and some veterans that are not what they used to.
It's not impossible for a team like that to beat a contender on a random night in January but it's harder to imagine such a squad getting more than one lucky win in the playoffs. They also look worn down and making the post season might just be reward enough for them at this point. That doesn't mean they will throw game four but I could see them conceding early if the Spurs get a substantial lead. Regardless of what the Lakers do, the Spurs should go for the kill.
Next game will be Sunday in the Staples Center. The Spurs could finish it then and there with another win. Let's hope they go get it.
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