Penetrating the Lakers Over and Over Until We Came… Up With a Huge Win
Game 8: Spurs 107, Lakers 92
Man do I feel silly right now. Not as silly as say, Phil Jackson maybe, but I really thought this would be a competitive ball game. This team gave us all kinds of match-up problems last year and we were incredibly fortunate to even eek out one game against them and on paper I don’t really understand why things should be any different last year. For one, they have a lot of bodies and length and athleticism they can throw at Timmy between Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm, Ronny Turiaf and (don’t laugh, he’s not bad defensively) Kwame Brown. For another, at least for the time being, they still have the Colorado Casanova suiting up, and while Bowen might be the best defensive perimeter guy in the business, he hasn’t shown much of an ability to slow down Bryant in the past. Really, when he’s on, the guy’s pretty much unstoppable, the way the game is called these days.
But the main reason the Lakers have always concerned me, at least a little, is Lamar Odom. The guy is a huge size mismatch for us at small forward and he could be a nightmare for either Finley or Manu to guard with Bruce already occupied on the Kobester. There aren’t that many Western clubs that can attack us with a big post-up small forward and a dangerous shooting guard who can get 30 a night and create any shot he wants. Go down the list. Dallas can’t, they’re weak and small at the two spot. Howard isn’t a post-up player and Avery wouldn’t dare play him and Stackhouse together against us for 30+ minutes because the latter is too much of a defensive liability. Phoenix can’t because Marion can’t post up, can’t create his own shot, and we don’t fear Raja Bell at all. Denver doesn’t count because A.I. and Melo will take plenty of bad shots, regardless of who covers them, and really Tony can do the job on Iverson as well as Bowen can. Sacramento can be scary with Artest and Martin, but they’re too awful at point guard and defensively for it to matter.
That leaves one contender, the Rockets, and you saw what they did to us with Bonzi Moleface last week. The McGrady-Wells combination is an absolute killer for us, plus they have the big Chinese guy. Yao! indeed. And you wonder why I’m so afraid of them.
But this was supposed to be about the Lakers. You could tell Pop had match-up concerns about them because he went to a lot of zone against them. Odom should have absolutely exploited his size match-up with our guards, drawn double teams, and put up a line like 20-10-10 against us while our defense was hopelessly scrambling to cover all the open shooters he’d be kicking the ball out to, our guys completely out of position for the inevitable Kobe pump fake and blow by for dunk after dunk. Even worse, imagine if they go small with Odom, Bryant and Luke Walton out there. Do we resort to that stupid Bowen-Udoka-Gino look? Do we stay big and gamble with Timmy or Fab/Elson on Odom in a quickness mismatch?
All you need to know is that when LA played the three of them together, they were +6 in a game they lost by 15. Why Big Chief Triangle didn’t use that line-up more often, I have no idea. In my mind the Lakers should be a much improved club this year, if everyone were to row in the same direction. They should be much better at point guard with Farmar having a year of experience under him and Derek Fisher a massive upgrade over Smush Parker. Turiaf looks like a good player and Bynum has a world of talent too. Me, I play the Bynum-Odom-Walton-Bryant-Farmar quintet as much as I can with Fisher as my 6th man, Turiaf as my 7th and Brown as the 8th. Everyone else there is a scrub who does more harm than good.
(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
The team that I saw take the floor however was far less than the sum of its parts. Odom, perhaps a bit skittish coming off his injury, looked like a gigantic weenie and was very hesitant to post up. Walton played only 21 minutes, and a good chunk of them in garbage time. Bryant was hyper intense defensively, but oddly detached and passionless offensively. Even with his postgame comments it was like he was reverential of our club, our camaraderie, and our defensive identity, like he was trying to audition for us or something. Hell, he even patted Opus on the head and helped him up after fouling El Gimpo on a drive. That’s never happened before, for sure. Mainly they were sloppy as hell, turning it over 19 times, 15 in the decisive first half, most of them completely unforced. Hell, the starting forwards had 10 alone.
It’s like none of them know how to play together and worse, taking their cues from Bryant, they have no idea how much effort their superduperstar will give them or where his mind will be from one game to the next. One day he’s every bit the megalomaniac competitor that Jordan was in his prime, the next he’s completely laid back and differential, like he was in that infamous Game 7 against the Suns a couple years back. Phil Jackson watches it all, oblivious, numb or jaded, it doesn’t matter which. He’s counting his money, basking in his inflated reputation and more interested these days in being a good quote than a good coach, your basic caricature.
His “Brokeback” comment was not only a lame attempt at gallows humor but it also made no sense. It was fake and scripted. “We” call this a Brokeback game, Phil? Who’s we? You and your coaches? The movie is only two years old. What the hell did you call a game like this in 2001? A Pulp Fiction Game? A Deliverance Game? Are you calling the Spurs gay cowboys for “penetrating” your defense or your team gay cowboys for taking it and asking for more? Furthermore, what does passing or “kicking” have to do with gay sex? I admit I’m pretty uneducated on the subject, but I watched Brokeback Mountain and I don’t recall any kicking during the coitus. I do recall the Heath Ledger character waking up in his tent the morning after his first gay tryst and looking over at the Jake Gyllenhaal character though, with a look on his face like, “Holy shit, did I just fuck that guy last night?” but I digress.
Oh, also, I really recall Anne Hathaway’s breasts.
Where was I?
Oh right, L.A. The talent is plainly here on this roster for them to be as good as anyone in the conference outside of the Suns and the Texas teams but like most of their celebrity fans the Lakers seem oddly phony, disinterested, and ironically, upon closer inspection, disinteresting.
This is a Spurs blog though, so I guess I should mention them at least a little. A few quickie observations…
1) Offensively this was obviously
one of Bowen’s better games, but I agree with Pop that his effort wasn’t anymore extraordinary than normal. However, while he made that statement to praise Bruce’s professionalism, I see it as more damning for Bryant, who just floated for most of the night. Bruce really didn’t need to do anything special to contain him. Don’t get me wrong, he played great, at both ends for once, but I don’t think he expended any more energy than normal.
(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
2) I’m not worried about Duncan’s passivity, his 2 of 13 night or the weak shit he threw up that got swatted right back in his mug repeatedly. He still was a defensive force in his own right and the big guy is allowed to have an off night now and again. I’m sure he was conserving his energy for the big back-to-back coming up.
3) That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Duncan finish the season as our 3rd leading scorer on a per game basis. At 31 he’s slowly transitioning into Bill Russell Defense-and-Rebounding mode, just as The Admiral did a decade ago. Every year we’re becoming more and more of a perimeter oriented team, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as Duncan is a great insurance policy to have inside in big games.
4) The reason Duncan’s gradual decline shouldn’t alarm anyone? Simple. We have, bar none, the best backcourt in the NBA. Both Manu and Tony are playing out of their minds and have definitively dethroned the Chauncey Billups-Rip Hamilton backcourt in Detroit as the supreme guard combo in the league. Our guys have much more playmaking ability, on both ends and are more efficient scorers by leaps and bounds over that over-hyped duo. Manu and Tony are already a startling +83 together in just 155 minutes, a rate of +.534 of a point per minute. Furthermore, when you factor Duncan in there too, our big three are +82 together in just 119, a stupefying rate of +.687. How about Boston’s big three, you ask? Try +.374.
(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
5) Believe it or not, I’m fine right now with Finley starting. Yes, he’s been bad. In fact, you could argue that he’s been terrible. But if he’s going to be terrible, it might as well be for 16 minutes a night, the first eight of each half, with the starters. He’ll get into less trouble playing with Timmy and Bruce behind him defensively and having Tony and Tim taking most of the shots. Unless Pop drops him out of the rotation completely, it’s really the safest spot for him to not become a complete liability. I definitely like Manu’s role the way it is though. Don’t change what’s working there.
6) Only 8 minutes of Tinyball, and none until garbage time. Let’s hope Pop has seen the light about this once and for all, especially with the next two games in the schedule coming up.
7) Darius Washington hasn’t been overly impressive in any area except the one I expected the least – his shooting range. Dude’s got a decent long range shot. If he can play halfway defense at all, then there’s no reason to demote him to No. 3 even once Vaughn comes back.
Your 3 Stars… (with apologies to Opus, whose consistent brilliance I’m starting to take for granted)
3. Matt Bonner – We were down 28-27 when Bonner checked into the game for the first time with 8:19 to go in the first half. We ended the second quarter with a 27-10 run with Bonner knocking down four shots, two from downtown. He finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes and it totally threw off the Lakers defense when he entered the game.
2. Tony Parker – With the wave of bigs being thrown on Duncan and Kobe there to hound Manu, it was imperative for The Wee Frenchman to have a big night as he was the one guy the Lakers were totally unable to account for (Derek Fisher? Seriously?), and he responded in a big way, slicing to the rim when it was there and expertly giving it up when it wasn’t. He had nine dimes, both of his turnovers were late and meaningless, and the jumper was smooth as butter. He’s really been on the top of his game of late and his decision making has been excellent. He’s really looking like a complete point guard these days.
1. Bruce Bowen - As a rule, when he outscores Kobe, he’s the first star, no questions asked.
Up Next: @ Dallas Mavericks
I’ve been waiting for this for months. They’re the one team out there that still gives me a facial tic just thinking about them and my blood boils at the sight of them on the highlight shows. I literally hate everything about their organization, top to bottom. As much as I delighted in their choke against the W’s last May, a part of me will always feel our fourth championship wasn’t completely validated because we never got to properly avenge the ’06 playoff loss to them. I mean, it’s not like I’d put an asterisk on the title or anything – we did our part – but I just wanted to beat them so bad. Hopefully Tim comes out like an uncaged lion and Joey Crawford won’t be reffing the game.
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