With everything that this Lakers team has undergone in the first few weeks of the early season, that would have been the perfect victory to put under their belt – a win against the top team of the Western Conference. All things considered, however, the Lakers and Spurs had a competitive night, with no double-digit leads, a slew of lead changes, and a below-90 final score. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball we’ve seen these two teams play, but it was, for the first time this season, an exciting game to watch for Laker fans.
There are no moral victories, true, but the Lakers are playing under an interim head coach who’s on his third game since their former coach was fired, their new coach won’t be on the sidelines until Sunday, their starting and back-up point guards are both out with injuries so they basically played the back-ups to the back-ups. All things considered, this game could’ve ended a lot worse than it did.
The game opened with a 10-2 Spurs advantage, but the Lakers finished the first quarter on top 24-18 after a sudden scoring spurt out of a timeout. Both teams went through occasional scoring droughts, with the defense from each side picking up as the game went on, but the Lakers lost this game on their own accord. Their carelessness on the floor and from the free throw line, their lapses in judgment in late-game situations – it all compounded in the final seconds and the Spurs got the best of them.
Kobe – Apart from a late-game defensive lapse, Bryant had a great all-around game. 28 points on 12-19, 2-4 from downtown and 2-2 from the free throw line, four rebounds; eight assists and a steal. He was basically the point guard tonight, with both Steve Nash and Steve Blake out. He did a little bit of everything – throwing lobs, hitting the open man for a three, leading the break for a layup. He was really feeling it tonight. On one fastbreak, every black jersey fled to the paint and Bryant was left all alone on the perimeter. He received a pass from Chris Duhon, then calmly raised up to hit the three.
Defense - The Lakers held the Spurs to 37% shooting in the first half and 39% for the game. Bryant’s failure to close in on Danny Green in the final seconds notwithstanding, they had a good defensive game. If not for those 17 turnovers and missed free throws (which seems to be the running theme in most of their losses), this would’ve been a mark under the win column.
Close Game – It feels like forever since the Lakers played an exciting a game that came down to the wire. They were either blowing teams out, or getting blown out themselves. This was a refreshing change, and with a familiar foe. A team with players who have been in the league as long as so many of the Laker players, the Spurs are always a fun, exciting team to watch.
• Turnovers, Bench, Free throws – These items should just remain as one bullet point considering the Lakers are guilty of all three most of the time. 17 turnovers to the Spurs’ eight. Despite even the dominance on the boards, the Spurs still got managed to have 16 more possessions. No Spur committed more than two turnovers. Dwight Howard alone had six.
Bench – With Steve Blake and Steve Nash both unable to play, second year Darius Morris and back-back, back-up point guard Chris Duhon had to fill in. The bench, as a whole, did much of the same as they’ve been doing all season – not much. Jordan Hill had a solid eight points and six rebounds kind of night, but apart from him, Jodie Meeks was 0-1 with three turnovers in almost 10 minutes on the floor and Antawn Jamison had five points on 2-4 and continues to be enigma. Despite not having his shooting touch down, Jodie Meeks continues to shoot, while Jamison has yet to assert himself on the floor.
Free throws – Dwight Howard shot 50% from the line tonight, which is his season average, but Darius Morris went 1-4. In a game that the Lakers lost by two points, four of those eight missed free throws would have made a difference
Late-game decision-making – With 19.9 seconds left in the game, and the Spurs down by one point, Bryant decides to leave his man, Danny Green, a 48% 3PT shooter, out on the perimeter alone and he scores from behind the arc, giving the Spurs a two-point lead. And then, with 9.3 seconds to either tie the game or shoot for the win, Metta World Peace inbounds the ball to Pau Gasol, who searches for Bryant, but instead ends up in the corner, where he attempts and misses a three-pointer. It’s all silver and black boxed out around the hoop so no offensive rebound for the Lakers and no chance to tie. Spurs win. To be fair, Gasol’s made that shot before, but maybe on a 3-10 shooting kind of night, it just wasn’t in the stars.
Offensive Decision-Making – Yes, Kobe Bryant was feeling it tonight, and the way he started, why would he stop? On the other hand, Bryant was only responsible for 19 of the Lakers’ 74 possessions, while the two big men in Dwight Howard and Gasol, took 19 shots combined. Dwight Howard was 4-8 in the first half, and he only attempted and made one more field goal in the second half, and that wasn’t until the final quarter, despite playing eight minutes in the third. There is just no reason Howard should be attempting one shot in an entire half, especially when the Lakers went 6-20 from downtown. 20 attempts from behind the arc [cue disapproving head shake here].
There go the hopes for 0.500, and there goes Bernie Bickerstaff’s perfect record.
Sidenote: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, METTA WORLD PEACE!