Two days removed from blowing a double-digit lead to Milwaukee at home, San Antonio returned to the AT&T Center to face a young Lakers team that is teetering on the brink of playoff relevancy (four games from the eight seed) and mediocrity (4.5 games from the worst record in the league).
And the Spurs — wiser and more comfortable with its play-by-play execution — absolutely throttled the Lakers out of the building.
Los Angeles is without the top-tier talent that allowed for compelling matchups against the Spurs for the past decade and counting. Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram are replacing the likes of Kobe, Shaq, Pau and Dwight Howard. It’s certainly possible that the Lakers will be more competitive in the next few seasons, once they’ve had time to construct a roster around the young talent and once that talent becomes comfortable playing in the NBA.
Until then, the Lakers didn’t appear to belong in the same league as the Spurs, let alone arena. While Los Angeles slowly lost its footing as the game wore on, San Antonio just got stronger.
For a while, even as the Spurs offense was humming like a fine-tuned machine, the Lakers responded with a counter-punch. They stayed within striking distance.
Then the Spurs elevated their game to a level we haven’t seen much this year. Kawhi Leonard knocked down contested pull-up 3-pointers, ran off double screens for easy points and escaped for an alley-oop dunk on a back screen. It was perhaps the easiest 31 points that he’ll ever score. Pau Gasol worked the interior, capitalizing on the Lakers’ frontcourt pairing of Randle and Timofey Mozgov. He didn’t miss a shot.
Tony Parker, too, unfurled his familiar tear drop floater in the lane, knifed through the defense for a few other scores and looked the part of his old self for the first half. He scored 13 points and added six assists, unlocking Kawhi’s potential as a deadly efficient off-ball scorer. Los Angeles was faced with the best possible version of the Spurs offense and, understandably, sputtered towards the finish line in response.
It was a Spurs-ian level performance of old for a Spurs team finding its groove in a post-Duncan world.
Kawhi Leonard: 31 points on 10-13 shooting, 3 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 8-9 from the free throw line.
Kawhi absolutely cooked the Lakers defense, ate them for dinner, saved some leftovers and cooked them again in the second half. The large deficit meant Kawhi, still searching for his first 40-point game of his career, didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Which was a shame.
Pau Gasol: 22 points on 9-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block, 4-5 from the free throw line.
While Kawhi cooked the Lakers defense, Pau was feasting on leftovers. He didn’t miss a shot for the fifth time in his career — becoming the ninth Spur ever to score 20+ points without missing a shot — and he was on triple-double watch alert for most of the game. Six of his nine shots were in the paint, indicative of the Lakers soft interior defense.
Quote(s) of the night
"It's beautiful to see championship teams, the way they come out after a loss. I don't think we showed up to meet that challenge."
— Luke Walton
"He's just an incredible player. He has so much confidence and is locked in every single night. It's a pleasure to play with a guy like Kawhi. He's one of the best."
— Pau Gasol
By the numbers
- 16: consecutive games with 100+ points. That’s the longest streak in the Gregg Popovich era. The franchise record is 29 games.
- 32: assists on 49 shots for the Spurs.
- 40: point margin of victory, the largest point differential of the season. San Antonio has won 10 games by 40 or more points in franchise history.
- 53: points for Leonard and Gasol. The duo shot a combined 86.4 percent from the field.
- +260: point differential for the Spurs since December 1. That mark leads the league during that span.
- Dejounte Murray set a new career-high with 10 points in 10 minutes. He outscored his point guard counterpart, Russell, who started and played 27 minutes. Murray flashed a bit of everything in his stint Thursday — throwing a alley-oop lob on his first possession, draining a wide-open corner 3-pointer and another 3-pointer above the left break, and driving to the lane for two free throws. Watching Murray work over the next few seasons should be a treat.
Kawhi-you-gotta-be-so-rude?— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) January 13, 2017
WUT. How. Don't give me that Kawhi system player nonsense pic.twitter.com/K2NsyqSra9— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 13, 2017
Dejounte Murray is going to be so good in two years. He has all the tools.— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) January 13, 2017
*saves a Dejounte Murray #NBAVote tweet in drafts for 2019*— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) January 13, 2017
Taco Bell menu item of the game
*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio (@quixem), after all. Direct any negativity towards Taco Bell in the comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.
Last night’s performance earned a crunchwrap supreme. Because it was perfect.
And that’s a wrap. Until next time ...