Los Angeles Lakers 91, San Antonio Spurs 86: Spurs fall despite another big night from Duncan
If the Spurs’ injury problems have been disruptive, the issues the Los Angeles Lakers are facing in that department are catastrophic. But The Mamba-less Lakers hosted struggling San Antonio and promptly beat them, 91-86, as they close in on the eighth and final playoff spot out west.
The Spurs (58-22), on the other hand, looked awful in their sixth consecutive road loss. The ball wasn’t moving, shots weren’t falling, and other than Tim Duncan putting on another unbelievable show, San Antonio did not look like a team ready for postseason play. And what’s even more disconcerting is the status of Tony Parker with only two games remaining.
In similar fashion to the April 4 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — during which Parker exited the game early due to injury — the Spurs’ point guard was not on the floor down the stretch of the fourth quarter. And it’s not hard to see why. His eight assists in 28 minutes were fine; his four points on 1-for-10 shooting weren’t.
And on top of Parker’s bad performance from the floor, his defense on Steve Blake floating around the perimeter was equally as shabby. The Laker guard ran amuck in the first half, scoring 18 of his 23 points before the break and generally finding a ton of open space on the perimeter. But the Spurs can live through these moments, especially considering Parker’s ability to at least match that type of production. But he didn’t tonight, and it wasn’t even close.
San Antonio’s leading scorer couldn’t get to the seams, couldn’t find his feet underneath him on his shot and even left lay-ups short under the rim. Defensively, he got caught up on screens all night, had issues keeping up with Blake (ugh!) running around the perimeter and clearly looked bothered physically. He isn’t 100 percent healthy, and one has to wonder if the most effective thing to do at this point is rest him until the playoffs begin a few days from now. While rhythm is important to have heading into the postseason, health is most crucial. And it’s something the Spurs currently lack.
Parker wasn’t close to the only player who struggled to do anything tonight, but as the catalyst of this offense his play is magnified. And given the injury issues that surround this team, along with the recent release of Stephen Jackson, the Spurs’ depth is an issue right now. San Antonio lacked energy tonight from top to bottom, and despite holding the Lakers to less than 37 percent shooting was unable to break the 90-point mark.
Though I shouldn’t say everyone lacked energy, because Duncan was as good as ever. His 11 fourth-quarter points — 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the game — and two monster dunks kept a listless Spurs team within reach in the final minutes. It was all for naught in the end against the Lakers, but if there’s one thing that’s clear it’s that the Big Fundamental is ready for the postseason.
At this juncture, the idea of momentum could be moot. San Antonio now faces a game against Golden State in Oakland on the second night of a back-to-back, a situation in which we’ve seen Gregg Popovich rest players more times than we can count. And the Warriors are currently battling the Houston Rockers for the sixth seed, so you can’t expect them to lie down. Not to mention, the Spurs have the No. 2 seed secured and have an entirely different focus on the court right now.
That’s an important thing to remember, too. Even heading into the Lakers game, San Antonio’s mindset was completely different from what Los Angeles brought. Between the Kobe Bryant injury and the race for the eighth spot in the playoff picture, the Lakers were desperate for a win. On the other hand, looking at Oklahoma City’s schedule, the Spurs are more than likely resigned to the fact the top seed is probably out of reach. When it comes down to playoff spots on the line, the team that truly needs a victory is oftentimes the one that pulls it out over a team whose primary long-term objective is something other than a win on that particular night.
They might be struggling mightily, but it’s not as if this is the playoff version of the San Antonio roster. With two critical pieces missing — three if you count Parker … and four if you count Jackson — the Spurs system was once again not allowed to operate in an ideal capacity. The rotation players have had to pick up the slack in the absence of their stars, and because of that are certainly experiencing fatigue due to attrition. Playing out of your element can have a lot to do with that.
Remember, this roster is built around the Big 3 and the way they create for others. Without the Spurs’ top playmakers, roles change in an effort to create better scoring opportunities. When Danny Green (16 points) and Tiago Splitter (11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) — both players mostly dependent on others to create for them — are forced to expand their comfort zone, it has a sort of domino effect.
When Parker isn’t right, and when Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw (an underrated playmaker at his position) aren’t on the floor
while DeJuan Blair is, the offense stalls. When the offense stalls and No. 20 isn’t on the bench, it forces Gary Neal into a much-needed scorer’s role. Neal is the only other perimeter player off the bench capable of consistently creating his own shot, but that’s obviously not where you want to turn any more often than a few bursts here and there. Tonight was a pretty glaring example of that.
The offense looked terrible once again, but it’s hardly the clear culprit here. The required pieces for this system are banged up or aren’t active at all, and without them it’s impossible to expect it to appear as it always has. First things first, the Spurs need to get healthy. They’re not winning any titles if they’re not, anyway.
And if the injuries do subside (which is clearly a big “if”), it’s not crazy to expect a fairly quick return to rhythm. And if any team can pull it off, it’s the Spurs, especially with the way Duncan is performing as his 37th birthday approaches. The “flip the switch” mentality is one most in this league would like to avoid, but momentum shifts can happen in the blink of an eye.
If you watched Game 3 of last year’s Western Conference Finals, you’ve seen it for yourself.