Note To All Visiting TV Commentary Crews: Pop Wears Ties at Home, Goes Tie-less on the Road; The Tie is Not a Commentary on the Importance of the Game
Los Angeles Lakers 82, San Antonio 97 // 27-4 // 1st in the West
Too much for my brain to process into one coherent narrative, so let’s go bulletin-style.
ACLs are for suckers: For all the talent and physical size that he has, Blair still lacks height, which, as the saying goes, can not be taught. While his nose-for-the-ball attitude and boundless hustle pays dividends against players his own size and “average” sized big men, he has visibly struggled against taller players and players with lots of length, of which the Lakers possess 3 (Bynum, Gasol, Odom).
One of my biggest fears coming into this season was that Blair would become a non-factor in any series or meaningful game we might have to play against the Lakers. Put those fears away. Blair had a monster game: 17 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. The Third Quarter belonged to him, as we took control of the game and never relented. If this season for Blair has been all about figuring out how to play bigger, then tonight’s game was his Master’s Thesis.
The Engine that Stirs the Drink: On paper, the Lakers are a nightmare match-up for us. They have the most length and interior defense to bother Duncan of any team in the league, and they have two elite perimeter defenders to hound Ginobili.
What they don’t have is an answer for Tony Parker. In many ways, our success against the Lakers hinges on Parker’s game. He did not disappoint tonight, putting on another clinic on how to run the Spurs offense: getting into the lane, finding open shooters, scoring easy fast-break buckets, being patient and running the motion offense and pick and roll when all else breaks down. He finished with 23 points and 3 assists. More importantly, he kept us in the game in the first 6 minutes when the Lakers came out with to-be-expected aggression and seemed like they might be able to bury us in the first quarter. He might not be the best “point guard” in the league, but he is the best point guard for our system.
We Must be an Acrobat, to Shoot Like This, and Pass Like That: Maybe the most impressive trait on display from the Spurs Tuesday night was the team’s amazing offensive balance. Ginobili and Duncan have their worst offensive games of the season? No bother, we’ll still put up 97 points and get positive offensive contributions from George Hill, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson, Tony Parker, and Matt Bonner. We’ll kill you inside, outscoring you in the paint 42-28. When you close off the paint, we’ll bombard you from 3-pt range (even though we shot poorly from there tonight, we hit some timely 3s as well pulled away in the 4th). Run us off the 3-pt line, and we’ll step in and make the wide-open jump shot or keep the ball moving until we get exactly the shot we want. Want to slow down, we’ll execute you to death. Want to push the pace? No bother, we’ll win the fast break battle 17-8. What else you got?
Numbers that even Pop can love: The defense really showed itself tonight, as well. By the numbers: the Lakers shot 35% for the game, 22% in the 4th quarter. The Lakers scored 38 points in the 2nd half (and were held to a mere 18 in the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half). Showing off a new facet to our defense that is seldom talked about, we got our hands in there for 9 steals, and countless more deflections and almost steals. We also recorded 8 blocks. Finally: After scoring 16 points in the first 6 minutes, the Lakers scored only 2 points in the final 6 minutes of the first quarter. They scored 9 points in the first 8 minutes of the third quarter. And they scored 0 points in the first 3 minutes of the fourth quarter. Put that all together, and that’s 11 points in about 17 minutes of action, or just over 1/3rd of the game. Impressive.
Don’t Ever Leave Me Again, George Hill: Though the numbers aren’t eye-popping (except those 9 rebounds), George Hill changes the way this team plays, especially on the defensive end. I’m sure the numbers are out there to back this up, but just by watching, you can see how must stronger we are defensively with him on the floor. He guarded Kobe about as well as he can be guarded, and didn’t back down when Kobe got in his face. He’s become a master of that corner 3 and is one of the fastest players in the league from line to line. Most importantly, he can play either guard position (and probably even some 3), allowing him to play with both Ginobili and Parker well individually, and as a trio. That sets up our entire back court rotation.
I Ain’t Mad At Cha: Ginobili played a horrible offensive game. But Ginobili is a competitor and always finds a way to contribute. He hit a clutch 3 to put the final nail in the coffin, handed out 6 assists, got 3 steals, and played good defense on Kobe, using his quick hands for steals and a few other TOs (like Kobe’s double dribble at the end of the first half). What sets him apart from other great players is that he’ll always find a way to impact the game on both sides of the floor, even when his shot isn’t falling.
Blair! Bonner! Oh, and That Other Guy: The two best big men on the floor for the Spurs tonight were Blair and Matt Bonner. Splitter might have been 3rd. Duncan played terribly, and McDyess didn’t even make the floor. Think about that: our 2 best bigs didn’t play well or didn’t play at all against perhaps the best big man rotation in the league, and we still won easily. McDyess is almost like our secret weapon, deployed in the second half of games when we need a little rebounding and inside-toughness. What a luxury to have.
I’m sure there’s plenty we could nit-pick about this game, and the Lakers are clearly struggling right now. But who cares. For one night, let’s just enjoy beating our truest Western Conference rival in convincing fashion.
Up next: our most hated rival.
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