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May 27, 2008
Playoff Prospectus
West Finals, Game Three

by Kevin Pelton

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Spurs 103, Lakers 84

Welcome back, real Manu Ginobili. The lame impersonator who wore Ginobili's No. 20 jersey in Games One and Two of the Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles was gone as the series shifted locales to the AT&T Center for yesterday's Game Three. In his place was the Ginobili who was one of the league's most valuable players in the regular season, looking healthy and spry as ever. Ginobili got to the basket (seven free throws), he made three-pointers (five in seven attempts) and was the dominant figure in the game. Ginobili scored 22 of his 30 points in the first half as the Spurs built up a double-figure lead the Lakers would never really be able to cut into during the second half.

With Ginobili playing well, the Spurs' offense was restored to its rightful order. Tony Parker had his best game of the series, scoring 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Tim Duncan scored 22 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and handed out five assists. Combined, San Antonio's big three scored 72 points, nearly enough to top the Lakers even had the Spurs' role players not scored at all.

Indeed, San Antonio's other rotation players did offer some key contributions. Michael Finley and Brent Barry--getting his longest run since the first round--knocked down two three-pointers apiece as the Spurs shot a sizzling 55.6% (10-of-18) from downtown. Meanwhile, starting center Fabricio Oberto had his highest-scoring game of the postseason, making all three of his shot attempts to post seven points and five boards in 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio defense was as sharp as ever, limiting the Lakers to 84 points in a reasonably fast-paced 92-possession game. The Spurs were unable to take away Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 points on just 23 shooting possessions despite getting to the free-throw line only one time all evening. However, the rest of the Lakers' starting lineup was held in check.

Lamar Odom repeated his poor Game One instead of his brilliant Game Two, missing nine of his 11 shot attempts in scoring seven points. Though, with six assists, Odom was the only Lakers player to hand out more than two, his inability to consistently find success on matchups that on paper should be in his favor has been the surprise of this series so far.

Pau Gasol scored 15 points, making him the only Lakers starter besides Bryant in double figures, but it took him 18 shots to get there. Meanwhile, Derek Fisher (two points in 29 minutes) and the Lakers bench save Jordan Farmar (10 points, keeping up his strong Game Two play in garbage time) were essentially invisible.

The Spurs managed to take away the ball movement and spacing that normally are the Lakers' trademarks. They handed out a season-low 13 assists as a team on 35 field goals. Bryant and Gasol, who have combined to average 11.1 assists per game during the postseason, had one apiece.

Besides giving most of Ime Udoka's minutes on the wing to Barry, Gregg Popovich also adjusted by getting Kurt Thomas back into the rotation. In this game, Popovich's decisions with regard to the all-important spot alongside Duncan seemed to be less important. In 18 minutes of big basketball, the Spurs were +5. They were +11 during Horry's 18:16 of action and +6 during the 8:29 the team went small (excluding garbage time). Even though Horry hasn't played particularly well individually in this series, San Antonio has outscored the Lakers by 15 points with him on the floor over the course of the first three games, so he should continue to play a big role in the team's rotation.

Now, it is Phil Jackson and the Lakers' coaching staff that is searching for answers going into a Game Four that could still be a turning point in this series if the Lakers are able to hand the Spurs their first home loss of this postseason. While Odom and Fisher struggled in this game, as both did in Game One, I think the Lakers' energy should be focused on finding a way for Gasol to get going--presumably via some sort of creativity in the two-man game with Bryant. An effective Gasol in the post should open things up for the rest of the L.A. offense, helping Fisher get the open shots he needs and drawing some defensive attention away from Odom.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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