The Spurs, this season, have been accused of being too old, past their prime, at times lost, and unable to gel with all their new players. They have struggled, it’s certainly no secret, but there has always been an air of confidence about them, from the coach to last player on the rotation, that keeps them in the rear view mirror of veteran teams who know them all too well — like the Lakers.
Kobe said in an interview that the Lakers and Spurs have such a rich history together that they could run each other’s plays, and he’s right. That’s why when it comes to this Western Conference rivalry, it is never about one marquee player against another, Kobe vs. Manu, Duncan vs. Gasol. When it comes to Los Angeles vs. San Antonio, it’s always Popovich vs. Jackson and tonight the advantage was Phil’s.
Since Parker’s absence, Manu Ginobli and 2nd year player George Hill, have taken on the reigns on this Spurs team and have done it convincingly. The Lakers were at the losing end of this starting backcourt’s success in the first half when George Hill went off for 20 points and, along with Ginobli, never saw a three-pointer he couldn’t hit. The Spurs hit 6-17 from downtown in the first half, to the Lakers’ 2-8.
There was no flow or rhythm to the Lakers’ movement in the first half. Lamar, however, exercised his right to be the unguarded one; a player who, in their last meeting, baffled Coach Popovich into stating in a sideline interview that they needed to figure out what to do with him. Lamar ended the first half by grabbing the ball straight from an air born Richard Jefferson and ran down for a right-handed lay-up.
That was the beginning of the end for the Spurs tonight, despite leading 48-41 to end the half.
In the second half, Phil and the Lakers coaching staff showed off their smarts. That’s what half-time is for, after all, interpreting the first two quarters and laying down the strategy for the next two. There are no first and second quarter do-overs in the NBA. If a team wants to win, they make the necessary adjustments in the second half and execute, and that is exactly what the Lakers did.
The third and fourth quarters would not allow a Spurs takeover. It wouldn’t even allow a George Hill field goal (he scored ONE point on 1-2 free throws in the entire second half). The Laker defense awoke (Spurs only scored 35 points in the third and fourth quarter!), they found their offensive stride and suddenly momentum shifted. Just. Like. That.
Ron Artest scored 16 points but it was his defense that keyed this win. He had five steals and his defense on Ginobli? Perfection. Some players are inspired by their offensive success. Ron is clearly fired up when his defense is providing and did it provided tonight!
Even Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, who have to realize that they don’t always have to do everything, but have to do SOMETHING when they’re on the floor, hit five timely shots from downtown.
Kobe Bryant did what he could with what the Spurs allowed him… and what they didn’t plan to allow him. On isolation against Ginobli? Blow-by to a lay-up. Double-teamed? Pass to an open Jordan Farmar for a three. Again on isolation, against George Mason this time? A 28-foot clock-shot buzzer beating three. Kobe scored 24 points tonight, placing him 12th on the NBA All-Time scoring list, but he also had six assists and four rebounds.
This most impressive win against the Spurs makes the Lakers’ winning streak 7. With the Mavericks and Nuggets tumbling over themselves in their last few games, one thing is abundantly and thankfully (for us fans) clear — teams in the Western Conference can have their 13-game winning streak and they can keep the trash talking alive, but when it comes down to it, they all still have to go through the Lakers.
So who wants next?
Pre-game Thoughts: Pau on Tim — let’s see what both of you got!
Half-time Thoughts: Apparently no one can guard George Hill. The man’s got 20 points in the first half!
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Josh Powell — in the precious few minutes of play that you got tonight, why the laziness out there? An inbound pass the turned into a turnover?!
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Though Kobe was, well, Kobe and Pau did his thing on Tim Duncan, tonight we’re in a New York State of Mind because Lamar was aggressive offensively (19 points) and Ron? Bill Plaschke must be eating his words right now.