Lakers 101, Spurs 71
Somewhere along the way, someone screwed up. The scripts for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals apparently got switched. Game One wasn't supposed to see the San Antonio Spurs run out to a seemingly-insurmountable lead before Kobe Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to a come-from-behind win. Meanwhile, Game Two's outcome--a tired and offensively-challenged Spurs team getting blown out of the Staples Center--would have made a whole lot more sense when San Antonio had little more than a 48-hour turnaround after beating the New Orleans Hornets in the semifinals. Reverse the two games and this series is following a predictable pattern.
In this reality, last night's lopsided outcome leaves some serious questions about the Spurs' ability to compete in this series without a healthy Manu Ginobili. A season's worth of pounding seems to have caught up to Ginobili at the wrong time. Even San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich admitted to TNT's Craig Sager that Ginobili wasn't himself. During the second half, Ginobili looked a little better, but he still finished with just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting in 23 minutes of action.
With Ginobili limited, what had been a three-man Spurs offense is down to two real threats, allowing the Lakers defense to focus heavy attention on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Duncan and Parker were the only two San Antonio players to score in double figures in Game Two, and even they were limited to 25 points, shooting 12-for-29 from the field.
Looking for someone to provide a spark on offense, Gregg Popovich pushed every button he had available, but nothing worked. The closest the Spurs came was putting Robert Horry at power forward. Though Horry missed all five of his shot attempts, San Antonio was +2 in his 13:56 on the floor. The Spurs also essentially played the Lakers even when they went small in the second quarter. The team's starting combination of posts, Tim Duncan and Fabricio Oberto, was responsible for almost all of the damage (in a negative way). With a traditional big lineup on the floor, San Antonio was outscored by an incredible 20 points in just over 15 minutes.
Duncan and Oberto were both on the floor at the end of the second quarter and start of the third when the Lakers blew open what had been a close game. Though the Spurs couldn't find any rhythm on offense, they were tied with Los Angeles at 39-all with about two and a half minutes left in the first half when Lamar Odom checked back in for the Lakers and Oberto replaced Michael Finley for San Antonio. Around that same point, TNT color analyst Doug Collins observed on the air that it felt like the Lakers should be leading comfortably. As it has a tendency to do, the scoreboard caught up with perception. Los Angeles finished the first half with a 9-0 run and had a matching 9-0 run early in the second half to stretch the lead to 16.
The Lakers' offense put up an extremely efficient 101 points in a slow game (87 possessions) despite coming up with only three offensive boards. Their offense was powered by 54.9% shooting; Pau Gasol was the only L.A. starter to shoot less than 58% from the field. After poor Game One outings, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom bounced back in a big way last night. Odom was brilliant, taking full advantage of the Spurs' inability to match up with him. He finished with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 12 rebounds and also used his length on defense, blocking four shots. Fisher took just five shots but made four of them, scoring 11 points.
The Lakers also got good news in the fourth quarter as Fisher's backup, Jordan Farmar, scored 12 of his 14 points. After an abysmal series against Utah, Farmar seems to have gotten back on track, allowing him and backcourt-mate Sasha Vujacic to anchor L.A.'s second unit.
The only positive the Spurs can take from Game Two is that they were able to rest their starters in the fourth quarter. As the New Orleans/San Antonio series reminded us, momentum is often as short-lived as the next game in the postseason, and the home court often has a lot to do with that. Throughout this postseason, the Spurs have looked much more spry and athletic at the AT&T Center.
The last San Antonio series also reminded us not to be hasty in dismissing the defending champions, though the flaws that have been obvious throughout this postseason run continue to create problems that have been exacerbated by Ginobili's health.
Popovich's decision to give Horry more time in Game Two was justified; he ended up the only Spurs player with a positive plus-minus for the game. However, I'd like to see the San Antonio coaching staff rethink benching Kurt Thomas, who saw action only in the fourth quarter last night. Popovich and company clearly trust Oberto, but he was wildly ineffective in Game Two. The difference between Oberto and Thomas is marginal, so it seems strange to ignore one of the two players. Thomas won't do much to solve the problematic matchup with Odom, but his ability to hit the midrange jumper might help San Antonio on offense. Clearly, Oberto's four points on 2-of-7 shooting and one offensive rebound offered the Spurs little at that end of the court in Game Two.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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