The Lakers easily handled one of the NBA’s hottest teams with a 106-92 victory over Utah on Friday night, but Sunday afternoon’s Easter showdown with the even-hotter Spurs was anything but easy.
San Antonio impressively kept the form that had produced wins over Cleveland, Orlando and Boston in the last nine days by building an 8-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and then reeled off a 13-1 run after L.A. had cut the deficit to just two to ultimately win 100-81.
The loss was just L.A.’s sixth at home on the season, while San Antonio stayed a half game ahead of Portland for seventh place in the West (and a half game behind Oklahoma City for No. 6) and thankfully out of the eighth spot, which would mean a first round matchup with the Lakers.
“That was a flat game from the middle of that second quarter on,” said Phil Jackson. “We had a pretty good start again, the game looked like it was going to swing in our favor, but they got things going their way.”
Leading the way for the visitors was Manu Ginobili, who was fantastic in the fourth quarter in particular by scoring 17 of his 32 points alongside five assists made necessary after point guard George Hill left the game in the second with a sprained ankle.
“He’s been playing All-Star caliber basketball for about a month and a half now,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who also didn’t mind 24 points and 11 rebounds from Tim Duncan.
After the game, Popovich was asked if he wanted to play the Lakers in the playoffs considering his team’s impressive performance. His response: “Who wants to play the Lakers?” (read: no.).
While Friday night’s victory saw Lamar Odom post a season-high 26 points as Pau Gasol took care of the glass (16) and the passing (season-high nine assists), Sunday was the Spaniard’s turn to carry the offense. Gasol scored 25 points in the first three quarters and finished with a season-high 32 (plus seven boards and six assists) as Odom managed just nine points on eight shots with 13 rebounds.
Gasol’s increased touches played a role in Odom’s limited production, no doubt, but Phil Jackson said the Spurs effectively contained Odom’s offense by keeping the smaller Richard Jefferson on him to take away driving lanes while shifting Antonio McDyess over to Ron Artest.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant struggled with his shooting for the second straight game, making 8-of-24 shots for 22 points just a game after going 5-for-23 against Utah (he did produce six assists and eight rebounds). While speculating that Bryant’s broken finger isn’t helping his shooting stroke is fair, Phil Jackson suggested that a heavy game schedule of late may have worn on No. 24′s legs a bit. Good thing, then, that the Lakers have three days without a game (Thursday at Denver).
The Lakers opened the contest quite well, building an 8-point lead behind Gasol’s scoring, but the Spurs rallied to close the deficit to two points heading out of the quarter, then outscored L.A. 26-16 in the second period to turn the 8-point lead their way. L.A. managed just 6-of-17 field goals in the third quarter, then made only 7-of-23 in the third but caused four Spurs turnovers to help keep the score even at 19 in the third.
L.A.’s fourth quarter rally started, ironically, with a bench that had managed just four total points in the game, as Jordan Farmar first caught an alley-oop pass for a layup and then picked off a pass and fed Bryant for a layup that cut the Spurs’ lead to four. Then came back-to-back scores from Gasol that cut the lead first to two and then three (Ginobili hit a three in between), and the ensuing 13-1 Spurs run that buried L.A.
Production off the bench has been an issue for the Lakers since Andrew Bynum’s strained Achilles pushed Lamar Odom into the starting lineup, but the four-point total marked a new low.
“That’s unfortunate for us that we couldn’t get them going,” said Jackson.
“As a consequence of (lack of minutes) they really didn’t get into the flow of the game.”
L.A. will need production from both is starters and its bench in Thursday’s showdown at Denver, but until then, your numbers:
1 Game since Feb. 10 for Luke Walton, who came into the game for just three minutes in the second quarter, making the score sheet with a personal foul.
4 Bench points on 2-of-15 shooting for L.A. Obviousy weakened by Lamar Odom’s move into the starting lineup in Andrew Bynum’s absence, the lack of bench production particularly effected L.A.’s 16-point second quarter.
27.6 Kobe Bryant’s shooting percentage in L.A.’s last two games (13-for-47) after an 8-for-24 outing vs. the Spurs followed his 5-for-23 against Utah.
32 Season high in points scored by Pau Gasol, who made 13-of-20 shots and added seven boards with six assists.
40.7 L.A.’s shooting percentage, compared with San Antonio’s 48.7 percent success rate.