With less than a week to play in this truncated NBA season, the Spurs, bolstered by 61 points from the Big Three, put the finishing touches on a Los Angeles Lakers team, even despite the addition of Kobe Bryant.
Nearly 2,000 miles away, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated a considerably more limited team than the Lakers. Which, technically, makes the Spurs’ 24-point victory over the potential No. 3 seed meaningless. The Spurs still maintain a half game lead over the Thunder, however.
But don’t let that fool you. This win was important. The Thunder, in this instance, are completely irrelevant.
The Spurs needed this victory after succumbing to intense scrutiny of the validity of the frontcourt — due in large part because of the Lakers’ vast rebounding advantage — and, subsequently, their title chances. Plus, in an unusual development, Metta World Peace poured in 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting. For the good part of a week, you were hard pressed to find a Spurs fan actually excited for the potential of facing the Lakers in the playoffs.
Now that has probably changed. I’m not necessarily chalking the Lakers as an easy victory — I still prefer to see them knocked out by someone else — but I’m not as fearful of playing a seven-game series.
I feel this way because of the way this Spurs team operates and conducts their business. They take every loss in stride (not that there has been very much) and seem to play with a genuine sense of the moment.
And that sense of moment, apparently, came in both games against the Lakers. Instead of defending Andrew Bynum with the high-energy, yet defensively challenged, DeJuan Blair, Gregg Popovich started Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Even though it’s an unusual tandem, given their awkward skill sets that don’t mesh too well, the decision worked.
The Spurs outrebounded matched the Lakers in rebounds in their 21 point victory on Tuesday. Tonight they upped the ante and outrebounded the Lakers by 13. Bynum grabbed nine boards in both games, combined. The Spurs, collectively, shot 60.6 percent from the field — if you adjust for 3-pointers, it becomes 65.5 percent — on 161 attempts. They knocked down 11 3-pointers at a 51.5 percent clip. After all, it is pretty difficult to rebound when there aren’t any missed shots to corral.
Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker attacked the Lakers defense — Duncan by taking advantage of soft midrange defense, Parker by slashing towards the rim and/or crossing over Steve Blake in the open court and Manu from the perimeter and from his passing acuity.
Ancillary performances from the Spurs role players, such as Boris Diaw’s 8-4 line tonight or Danny Green’s efficient 11 point night on Tuesday, were instrumental in the Spurs’ blistering assault as well.
And perhaps most importantly, the Lakers’ best player (does he really need to be named?) was in uniform tonight, making this pretty close to what we could expect in a playoff series. Kobe Bryant didn’t force the issue in his first game back from tenosynovitis (ie: inflammation) in his left shin.
While he didn’t post a high assist total, Bryant scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Instead of controlling the offense as he normally does, maybe Bryant realizes that redistributing his 23.2 attempts for his two big men will increase the Lakers’ offensive efficiency.
I find it hard to believe that he will scale back his attempts for the good of the team, however. As it turns out, this didn’t increase their chances of supplanting the Spurs on the road. They were outscored by 24 points when Bryant was on the court. It actually gets worse. Bynum posted a team-low minus-26 in 29:31 of action. Gasol’s minus-13 actually looks pretty good.
The Spurs, with their 46th win under their belts, will head back home to prepare for the first game of a back-to-back against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers. The win marks their sixth consecutive double-digit victory (average margin of victory was 19.2 points).
You know what’s amazing? I didn’t even blink twice after citing that statistic.
Bring on the playoffs.
The Lakers’ starters posted an aggregate minus-105 … Gasol’s minus-13 led their starters … The Spurs assisted on 27 of 47 attempts (57.4 percent) … This was their 22nd game with more than 25 assists … The Lakers got to the 30 times compared to 18 for the Spurs … Duncan had a game high plus-26 … Duncan finished with 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds and two blocks … Ginobili led the bench with 20 points … The Spurs bench outscored the Lakers bench by 24 points … San Antonio shot 61 percent from the field on 77 attempts … Adjusted for 3-pointers, that is 67.5 percent … The 61 percent is the second highest total amassed this year, only behind the Thunder’s 63 percent night against the Bobcats on Mar. 10 … Boris Diaw (eight points, four rebounds) led the bench with a plus-18 … He started the second half, logging 24:29 in the process; his aggressiveness and defense are pretty impressive … Parker (20 points, 10 assists) posted his 12th double-double of the season … Parker is second in double-doubles to Duncan’s 22 …