The Spurs, the #2 seed in the West, did, as it is often said at this time of year, what they were supposed to do. San Antonio took full advantage of their home court and defeated the Lakers, 102-91.
Tony Parker broke out of his mini-slump following a series of injuries at the end of the regular season and used a flurry in the 3rd quarter to keep the Lakers in the playoff loss column. Parker exploded for 15 of his 28 points in the quarter, including 12-straight over the middle 5 minutes to send LA back to Staples desperate for a win. Duncan and Leonard both chipped in 16, and Ginobili continued his efficient play with 13 points and 7 assists in 19 minutes, helping the Spurs bench outscore the Lakers reserves, 32-24.
The Lakers relied heavily on Dwight early, who finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds. But, foul trouble again limited his minutes in the pivotal 3rd. He picked up his 4th personal at the 8:37 mark, just as Parker started to attack the rim. Blake also scored 16. Pau and MWP added 13 apiece. Nash showed incredible toughness as he powered through 31 minutes, limping and grimacing his way to 9 points and 6 assists.
Despite the quick turnaround, the Lakers now get their shot at home court as Game 3 and 4 tip-off on Friday and Sunday, respectively. MDA already seemed to prep for the home cooking comfort often felt by the more youthful members of a team as he shook off his usual short rotation convention and gave the unseen guys some run to end the game.
With Nash a bit gimpy and Blake also nursing a newly strained hamstring, Morris and Goudelock found themselves spearheading a quick 8-0 run in the waning minutes of the loss. Jordan Hill even played his first minutes since hip surgery in January, which will no doubt add some more support to the front line. The Lakers have desperately missed Hill’s energy around the rim on defense and penchant for boards.
Hopefully Nash and Blake will be good to go on Friday night. If not, then the bench, despite a routine denial of playing time due to MDAs shift from 7-seconds or less to 7-players or less, must step up, and in a hurry. In an injury plagued season, a season that has seen players heading to the trainer’s table just as others rejoin the squad, the constant questioning and blaming of the coach might seem unfair or unjust.
Unfortunately, the Lakers entered this season with various maladies hindering a few players. This was not a surprise. Thus, the mindset should have been the development of depth from the first jump ball. MDA came to a team already in turmoil and unfortunately managed only to plunge it ever deeper while trying to save it. He refused to let players from his bench make mistakes in the regular season and leaned far too heavily on his starters. Of course, making the playoffs when in such a hole of a record early in the season required, even demanded, that the starters work twice, sometime three times as hard.
But, these Lakers are rolling down the back end of their prime. They are not built for court blazing speed, or fun and gun perimeter shooting. The indifference towards their overall health, the denial of rest, no matter how small, in the regular season hurts now, when it counts the most. These little used bench players now must find a way to win one game at home. Then, they will have to somehow replicate an equally contributory performance under even more pressure, with even more at stake. Regardless of feelings towards their talent level or potential for contributions, a few minutes here and there during the regular season, against competition that they could compete with to build their confidence, would have helped.