Before tonight’s game, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker said he hoped Kobe Bryant would play in the Spurs’ first meeting of the season against the Lakers.
Perhaps it would’ve been better for the Spurs if the NBA’s leading scorer had left his purple suit in the visitor’s locker room and suited up in purple and gold.
Without Bryant, the Lakers focused on mismatches inside against the Spurs and speed the ball around a little more. As they have done in their last few games without Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have played very well.
Very well might be the understatement of the year for how they performed tonight, giving the Spurs a dominating 98-84 beating and doing so on the Spurs’ home court, where they had only lost four games all season.
“They played great and they beat us to death. There’s nothing else you can say about it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said following the game. “They beat us in every facet of the game. It was a really poor performance execution wise and competitive wise.”
While the Spurs remained scoreless throughout the first two minutes of the game, Kawhi Leonard finally put the Spurs on the board with a layup with 9:31 remaining in the first quarter. The rest of the first was a series of runs.
Danny Green’s three-pointer two minutes later gave the Spurs a five-point lead and punctuated the end of an 8-0 run. The Lakers then bounced back with an 8-0 run of their own before the Spurs answered with, yes, another 8-0 run. But it was the Lakers who finished the first quarter strong on an 11-0 rally before Manu Ginobili’s three-pointer brought the Spurs within three points at the end of the first quarter.
After Andrew Bynum grabbed an impressive 11 rebounds in the first quarter, he continued that trend in the second with eight more in what would be a recurring theme throughout the night.
“Drew’s performance was outstanding. 30 rebounds and 16 points was remarkable. One of the things we talked about doing coming into the game was trying to control the tempo because we know San Antonio likes to push the pace and they’re very good at scoring a lot of points,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “One of the ways we could control the tempo was by trying to rebound and Drew took it upon himself with 30 rebounds.”
Matt Barnes also burned the Spurs defense when they doubled in the post and sagged off him. Barnes definitely made them pay with 11 points to lead the Lakers charge.
While Patty Mills drained a three-pointer and stole the inbounds pass leading to a layup, the Spurs got within one point, but that’s about as close as it would get for the rest of the game. While the Spurs struggled offensively, going scoreless for 4 minutes in the second quarter, aside from Barnes’ barrage, Steve Blake was hitting open threes and Pau Gasol added a few points to take a five-point halftime lead.
The Lakers didn’t let up, busting the game open and leading by as much as 20 points in the third quarter. While the Spurs kept it close early in the quarter, they had several consecutive possessions where balls went in and out or they just didn’t take good shots.
While Gasol led the Lakers in the first and Barnes did so in the second, Lakers forward Metta World Peace decided to take over in the third quarter, hitting five of six shots for 11 points, just five less than the entire Spurs team scored that quarter.
The Lakers scored the first five points in the fourth quarter on an open drive and dunk for Josh McRoberts followed by a three-pointer by World Peace. Another World Peace three with just over seven minutes remaining gave the Lakers their biggest lead of the game with a 26 point advantage.
The Spurs had an opportunity to close the gap later in the game after Danny Green (22 points) hit two three-pointers and James Anderson followed with a three of his own for a 9-0 run to pull within 15 points. While the Spurs defense continued to make stops and kept the Lakers scoreless for four minutes, Anderson forced up two missed shots and Mills missed a 10 foot jumper and air balled a three-point attempt. A 17-foot pull-up jumper by Mills brought the Spurs within 15, but missed opportunities on what could have been 10 points cost the Spurs their last minute chance to get back into the game and swing the momentum in their favor.
While the Spurs didn’t appear to shoot horribly on paper, three of the Spurs’ starters combined for 3-of-16 from the field. Tony Parker had what is likely his worst game of the year, knocking down only two of his 12 shot attempts for four points. While three of the Spurs’ starters also combined for just six points, they got some help off the bench.
In the end, a 60-33 rebounding advantage, 30 of which belonged to Bynum, gave the Lakers several extra opportunities (13 second chance points), while the Spurs only had one offensive rebound all night, courtesy of Parker.
“Metta stepped up big and he hit a lot of clutch shots for us. Blake did too,” Bynum said. “Matt Barnes shot freely so that’s why we have teammates and they picked up the slack.”
While plenty can change when both teams meet again, especially considering Bryant will be back, this game was definitely still a big test for the Spurs inside, and they are still a ways away from solving it.
It won’t get any easier with another of the league’s better front court tandems coming into the AT&T Center tomorrow night when the Spurs play their last regular season game against the Memphis Grizzlies.