Watching the first half of Lakers/Spurs last night made Tex Winters‘ comments look idiotic. L.A. started the game 10-11 from the field, getting buckets from everyone on the floor. The Lakers built an 18-point lead by the end of the first quarter, and maintained that double-digit spread deep into the third quarter.
But as San Antonio scrapped back into it, Winters’ assertions that the Lakers have serious flaws (I think that’s what he means by “warts”) and that they’re “not playing as good as our record indicates” looked like the truth.
As we wrote in Smack, you knew that the Spurs were going to put a run together. Tony Parker went on a personal mission in the third, murdering the Lakers’ D on screen-and-rolls. He rattled off eight straight points, and then after TD and Ime Udoka both scored, Parker finished the quarter on a five-point run. Parker had L.A. so mixed up, Kobe ended up on the wrong side of a screen, hugging the guy who set a pick on that play (Udoka?) as TP took a wide-open J.
But even so, L.A.’s defensive lapses weren’t the troubling signs. It was what they did on offense during that stretch. The Lakers became really stagnant, waiting around and watching each other go one-on-one. They went 8-22 from the field as a team, committing five turnovers while converting only four assists. Kobe didn’t get involved in the flow of the offense at all. Every time he got a touch, it felt like the Lakers were stopping and staring. Bryant finished the third quarter without hitting a field goal.
But the Lakers managed to stave off San Antonio’s run because they got a couple ill-advised shots to go. Phil Jackson couldn’t have been happy that they were even taking those tries in the first place. Derek Fisher stuck a 24-foot jumper in Parker’s grill – a classic example of Fisher jacking, and one of those shots that everyone on the bench says “Nooo!” when he pulls, and “Yes!” when it goes in.
If you only saw the SportsCenter highlight, you might think that last night was yet another example of Kobe taking over a game down the stretch. But the truth is, Luke Walton was the biggest reason that San Antonio’s 16-point comeback didn’t translate into a loss for L.A. He started the fourth quarter with Mamba on the bench, and got things moving. He made a pretty pass to Pau in the paint, then got a big steal when the game was 81-77, and stretched L.A.’s lead to 12 points on two different occasions in the fourth quarter. Sidenote: In Bill Simmons’ recent mailbag, a reader called Walton the male equivalent to Jennifer Love Hewitt:
“I thought you should know that I have discovered the male equivalent to Jennifer Love Hewitt — a guy that most women find attractive, but when guys hear any girl say it, they get seriously pissed off. Brace yourself … it’s Luke Walton. Go ahead, test the theory with your male and female friends, but I think you will find the same results.”
But back to last night – bottom line: you don’t want your second unit (or the Bench Mob as Vujacic says) to be the only group capable of getting clean looks at the rim. And furthermore, you don’t want to watch an 16-point lead slip away and leave it to Kobe to hit two very tough shots – one fading 17-footer with two guys all over him, and then a ballsy three after the Spurs cut it to 95-93 in order to maintain a lead. That’s not what you’d expect from a team that is “running away with the West” as the LA Times said this morning. Normally, an L.A. win over San Antone would mean that they’re clicking, as they came out on top against the team that gives them a ton of trouble. But the final 25 minutes of last night’s game paints a different picture.