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By Jeff Koch on February 3, 2011.

San Antonio 89, Los Angeles Lakers 88  //  41-8  //  1st in the West

Manu took his shot and missed. Parker got off a beautiful teardrop and missed. Duncan got his chance that was reminiscent of the shot he hit right before 0.4, but missed this one.

Enter Antonio McDyess.

The beauty of basketball is that it’s at once the most narrative driven sport and also the sport most defined by single moments. You can’t possibly understand the story and complexity of a game without watching from tip to buzzer; sometimes after 47 minutes and 59 seconds, though, every beat of the story is eviscerated by one defining, immortal moment. McDyess’ tip in will never live in infamy like 0.4, but for at least one night, it compelled me to my feet, screaming in joy, leaving me gushing like a young man in love and reminding me why I enjoy basketball in general and the Spurs in particular so much.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

The larger story is more difficult to get a grasp on. It was a somewhat disjointed, perhaps ugly game. Both teams were either playing really good defense or pretty bad offense. Maybe both. The game certainly had the feel of a playoff game, both in physicality and pace and also in nerves and tone. Every basket was at a premium, every moment hotly contested, every player clearly giving just a little bit more than normal for a mid-season game.

The interesting thing about playing the Lakers is that we are fairly evenly matched with them in the aggregate, but the teams do not match up very well with each other at all. Each team has clear advantages over the other. The team that maximizes their advantage and minimized the damage done by the other team’s advantage will probably win the game. In general, the Lakers hold the edge inside, the Spurs on the outside, with Bryant and Duncan being the wild cards for each team’s disadvantage.

The Lakers have size and length on us, with three dominant interior players. To beat them, we need to neutralize scoring in the paint and rebounding. We weren’t terrible tonight, losing points in the paint 42-32 and the rebounding battle 44-38. I felt like we gave up too many offensive boards and gave them too many second chance points. Their three inside players (Gasol, Odom, Bynum) had 45 of their 88 points. Overall, we didn’t do a great job limiting their advantage, but we clearly did just enough.

Where we did a better job is in limiting Kobe Bryant. The key when judging defense against Kobe is not how many points he scores, but how many shots it takes him to get those points. He had 16 points tonight, but took 18 shots (5-18, for 27.8%). If you can keep him below 1 point/shot (16pts on 18 shots is .89 pts/shot), you’re defending him well. He did have 10 assists which is troublesome; but, again, we did just enough.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Our advantage over the Lakers lies mostly on the perimeter. Namely, penetrating guards (and the PG position in particular) and 3-point shooting. Tony Parker may be the most important Spur against the Lakers, as PG is their biggest defensive liability, and Parker is one of the best penetrating PGs in the league. Tonight Parker had an up and down game. He started off pretty sluggish and had a fairly non-descript 1st quarter, and really only came alive near the end of the first half to bring the team back from a 7-point deficit to even at halftime.

The third quarter was TP time, as he erupted for 14 in the quarter and had his way with the Lakers defense. He cooled down in the 4th, but his spurt in the 3rd might have been what got us over the hump and helped us to hold on down the stretch. In general, though, it’d be better if he was more aggressive and able to control the game more thoroughly from start to finish.

Where we have perhaps our biggest advantage is in 3-point shooting. We shot 6-16 (good but not great), but were a +12 over the Lakers as they made only 2 of 12. Much of our offense is designed to get open 3-pointers for spot up shooters, and as long as we can keep running at least that part of our offense and keep getting open 3s, we should always have a chance against the Lakers. Richard Jefferson’s career year from 3-Point Territory is particularly crucial here, and he delivered big time tonight, hitting several clutch shots and playing one of his best games of the season. Fortunately, the Lakers seem to be a team that he can match up well with.

As for Duncan, for the second straight meeting, the Lakers really made him a non-factor on offense. (Duncan didn’t help his cause by missing several long jump shots). Bynum and Gasol both give him trouble on the offensive end, and it can tilt the balance of our offense a bit too far towards the guards, allowing the Lakers’ defense to really lock in. However, I feel like Duncan is still an effective defended against the Lakers, and he had a couple of really nice blocks tonight. The one on Blake was perhaps more highlight-ready, but the one on Bynum was a lot more crucial and a more typical Duncan-like block.

The teams played pretty evenly tonight, as the score would indicate. The story is yet unfinished (I didn’t even get to the benches!), and probably won’t come to a close until the playoffs; but tonight’s chapter was sealed with a moment, one split second that pushed two evenly matched teams playing an evenly matched game into two different directions.

I like the direction we got to go. Thanks, Antonio.

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