This season was such a bummer for Laker fans, it’s not surprising that they seized upon, or imagined, a ray of hope when the team finished 28-12 and, Kobe or no Kobe, made the playoffs as a No. 7 seed.
Unfortunately for the Lakes, there were two (2) great teams in the West so they’d have had to get up to No. 6 to gain a meaningful advantage.
The Lakers would have been underdogs with Kobe Bryant. Without him, the Spurs were 8 1/2 point favorites Sunday and won by 12.
If it’s any consolation for the Lakers, the game was hardly one-sided.
And the series isn’t over yet!
How could it be? They’ve only played one game.
Losing Game 1 of any series means nothing.
Losing Game 2, on the other hand, means you’re half-way to summer vacation, going home where the other team has two chances to put you on notice that your season is about to end.
(I assume we’re talking about losing your first two on the road. If you lose two at home, you’re toast… unless you’re the 1993-94 Houston Rockets, who lost two at home to the Suns, then went on to the first of their back-to-back title runs in which they went 7-0 in elimination games.)
And it’s not surprising Laker fans saw the Spurs, who were 53-16 before finishing 5-8, as somehow preferable.
(Showing Laker fans weren’t nuts, Gregg Popovich looked like he was trying to move down to No. 2, away from the No. 8 Lakers, only to see the Lakes jump to No. 7 at the end.)
If the Thunder is scary athletic, the Spurs have a new, young supporting cast around an ever-older Big Three.
Ironically, Tim Duncan, going on 37, is now the spriest of all
Tony Parker has had injury problems all spring and, whether it was that or Steve Blake and the Laker scheme, didn’t spend the game in the lane, the disaster scenario when you play the Spurs.
Then there’s Manu Ginobili, 35 going on 45, seemingly the most broken-down and used-up of the Big Three.
He played only 60 games, averaging 11.8 point, his low since his rookie season in 2002-03.
As mightily as Gregg Popovich tried to rest his veterans, Ginobili looked worse at season’s end, playing just one game in April, averaging 10.5 and shooting 39% after the All-Star break, and coming into Sunday’s game with a minutes limit.
Unfortunately, as the Lakers learned Sunday, he’s still Manu Ginobili.
Otherwise, who knows?
With the Lakers competing gamely, if not executing brilliantly, they cut a 10-point deficit to four in the third quarter. They were still within 62-55 when Manu turned back into Manu, shoving in an awkward, improvised nine-footer, then knocking down two threes on runouts.
San Antonio 70, Lakers 57, with 12 minutes of garbage time left, in which they trailed by double figures throughout.
Bottom line, if you’re going to beat someone who’s better than you on the road, you’d better play a lot better than you usually do.
For all the talk about the disappearance of the Lakers’ inside-out game, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to reappear.
When the Lakers had Shaquille O’Neal, the Spurs focused everything on him, guarding him with Duncan, David Robinson and Malik Sealy, just to start with.
Doesn’t set off any sirens in San Antonio.
If Dwight and Pau Gasol really are the game’s best 4-5 tandem, as ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy noted, the Spurs played them straight up in the post, with help only after the Laker bigs went to shoot, and not much of that.
Popopvich was so unconcerned about the inside threat hurting them, or getting Duncan in foul trouble, he let Tim spend some time guarding Howard.
Hey, what’s the problem? If Dwight becomes trouble, someone else will come back and foul him.
If neither Steve Nash (6-15) nor Blake (5-13) was on fire, both can shoot.
If they were to get a lot of open looks in Game 2, the balance of this equation could change.
If they don’t, well, they don’t call them upsets because they happen all the time.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Kobe Bryant making two free throws with a ruptured Achilles in our Play of the Week!
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