That was kind of cool.
I'll be honest, your humble narrator started the evening in kind of a grouchy mood. I was gonna be stuck watching the Spurs beat the snot out of a miserable Lakers team while other basketball fans around the country got to see a presumably competitive, entertaining game between the Warriors and Thunder.
Yeah, I understood the story-line coming in. It was going to be Kobe Bryant's final game in the AT&T Center. But so what, you know? So. What. I've never been a Lakers fan or a Bryant fan, and I thought he was overrated when he was at the height of his powers. Why was I supposed to be excited now, to watch Kawhi Leonard ground him into pulp one last time while Byron Scott does a million nonsensical things on the bench and everyone in purple and gold jacks up awful shots and plays no defense whatsoever? The Spurs have been involved with a few blowouts this season already you know. It's kind of their thing.
We all saw what they did to the Mavs, an actual NBA team with a good coach and a pulse and everything, and that was on the road. After that, you wanted me to be hyped for the Lakers? Really? I just want to see some good ballgames, man.
As it turned out, the Spurs apparently felt the same way, with none other than Gregg Popovich speculating afterward that his charges may have overlooked L.A. after the easy win at Dallas. "It was a pretty sloppy game from our perspective," was Popovich's postmortem on a 106-102 Spurs win.
"You hate to think that it's because they had an easy time last night, but you wonder about it and you talk about it... but now we can enjoy the Dallas win. Losing tonight would've taken that away."
The sloppiness Pop described didn't fully take hold for a while. The game began much the way you figured it would. LaMarcus Aldridge had his way early with three jumpers
and Patty Mills tied him with eight first quarter points, canning three shots with no Laker defender within miles of him.
The Lakers didn't look particularly engaged defensively, you might say.
Bryant made his first attempt, a tough baseline 'J' with Leonard contesting, but missed his next four, and only some sweet shooting by San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson kept the visitors within shouting distance, with the Spurs up 29-20 after one.
Momentum tilted in the second quarter, though the Lakers defense didn't have much to do with it. They were still leaving Mills wide open, especially in the corners, but he was paying homage to Bryant. Aldridge and Leonard scored 15 between them in the quarter but no one else did much of anything, and the Spurs couldn't widen the gap, shooting just 1-of-7 from downtown in the quarter while surrendering 13 free-throws to the Lakers. You would've thought it'd be a free-for-all in the paint once Roy Hibbert sprained an ankle getting shook by Tony Parker, but The Wee Frenchman actually missed a layup on the play and perhaps the other guys also felt sorry for the visitors.
"It surprised me and that's why I missed the layup," Parker insisted afterward. "I felt bad for him and then Kobe told me he was out and I was like "aww, I'm sorry,' and that's why I missed the layup, I didn't expect that he would fall like that."
The Lakers actually took a brief lead late in the quarter but Leonard got the Spurs into the tunnel up 54-51, with Clarkson leading everybody with 15 points, to 14 for Aldridge and 13 for Leonard.
Then, out of nowhere, Bryant detonated, with 16 points in the third quarter, including 10 in a 1:30 span on three bombs, with the final one being an "and-1." He posed with his follow-through arm extended longer and longer with each make, explaining afterward that lubrication was the key.
"I was happy that i was able to get loose a little bit," Bryant said. "I felt like the 'Tin Man' for a while and I couldn't find any oil anywhere to loosen up these joints, and then I got kind of loose there in the third quarter... the joints started feeling a little bit better... I felt pretty good. The thing is you sit down for a minute and they lock back up, and you've got to get them loose again."
The Lakers scored 30 for the second straight quarter, while holding the Spurs to 25. Aldridge and Leonard got 15 more, and Parker added a half dozen, but Mills missed four more open shots and the rest of the bench contributed but four points, all from Jonathon Simmons. The ball wasn't moving very much, and the Spurs found themselves trailing by a bucket going into the fourth.
As it turned out, this backdoor layup from Parker would foreshadow what was to come.
The Lakers stretched their lead as high as five points on a three from Lou Williams, the largest fourth quarter deficit the Spurs have faced at home all year, but Simmons countered with a three of his own on the next trip down and two consecutive triples from Danny Green tied the game at 90-90. It went back-and-forth for a bit, with Bryant giving all the Lakers fans in the building --and there were plenty-- one last thrill with a ridiculous three right in front of the Spurs bench to even things up once more 96-96, shrugging like Michael Jordan afterward at Tim Duncan.
"They were like ‘No way,' and I was like ‘Dude..' Missed some easy ones and then made a ‘B.S.' one like that... I don't know what to tell you," Bryant explained later.
From there though the Spurs pulled away with their starters. Green sank the go-ahead three, Parker got a jumper to fall, they baited Clarkson on another backdoor play to Parker
and then Aldridge finished them off with a floater inside.
It turned out to be a pretty entertaining game, all in all, and everyone in the building left satisfied, with the Bryant fans seeing their hero bury a few more shots for old time's sake and the home fans sending the Spurs off on their "Rodeo Road Trip" excursion still undefeated at home, a perfect 28-0.
Bryant took the loss --and his 9-of-28 shooting line-- in stride, showing genuine gratitude for the video tribute the Spurs put together before the game, with Popovich and each member of their "Big Three" sharing memories and anecdotes of competing against the all-timer.
"It was about mutual respect, for the battles that've been had," Bryant explained of his relationship with the Spurs old hands. "There've been times we've gotten the best of them and plenty of times they've gotten the best of us, but the beauty was in the battles and the struggle between the two, the contrasting styles and personalities and I think that's what makes the journey that we've both been on so beautiful."
The Spurs will journey will take them to nine different cities over the next month, beginning Tuesday in Miami. Simmons will be counted on to produce off the bench in place of the injured Manu Ginobili and he was asked what the biggest challenge of the road trip will be.
"Getting rest," he said. "I'm a rookie, so I'm new to it, so I'll have a better answer after the road trip."
Well what advice did the vets offer to you ahead of time, Jon?
"Make sure you pack some extra draws," Simmons said.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Kawhi Leonard
3. Danny Green
Up Next: At Miami Heat (29-22)
The Spurs pack their draws and presumably other clothing items for the beginning of the annual RRT that will have them away from the AT&T Center until March 2, though they will have a week off after the first two games in Florida to get back and relax for the All-Star break. The Heat will be the final team this season they'll see for the first time, and it'll be the beginning of yet another back-to-back, with the Madge awaiting the following night. Miami has had an up-and-down year, dealing with various injuries and hamstrung by a team-wide inability to shoot threes and Hassan Whiteside's chronic immaturity. I get the impression the vets on the team despise him, but maybe I'm wrong. Lately they've been bringing Whiteside off the bench and starting Amar'e Stoudemire (!!!). Miami has won two in a row, including Friday night over Charlotte, with Whiteside collecting a 10-10-10 big-man triple-double in 27 minutes. As for history between these two teams, as I mentioned already this will be their first meeting of the season. I'm sure they've played some entertaining and noteworthy games versus one another but honestly right now I'm drawing a blank.