San Antonio Spurs 108, Los Angeles Lakers 105: Where a win really didn’t feel like it

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AT&T CENTER — Walking around the Spurs locker room after the game, it didn’t feel like the Spurs had just taken down a hated rival in one of the more exciting home games we’ve seen at the AT&T Center. It felt like they lost. By a lot.

Considering the factors (Lakers playing second night of a road back-to-back, fourth game in six days) and that the Spurs had a 12-point lead with 4:15 left in the game, you can see why the Spurs were so disappointed to only come away with a 108-105 win over Los Angeles.

To the many of the Spurs, the only bright spot in the game was the play of Kawhi Leonard (more on him in a bit).

“I thought we were really raggedy on offense to the point where I didn’t know who was out on the court,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “I didn’t recognize that basketball team.”

Manu Ginobili said after the game that even in some losses you can take things from and feel like you improved as a team despite the result. Not so with Wednesday’s win over the Lakers or Monday night’s loss to the Hornets. To Ginobili, the Spurs got worse over the last two games.

Rivalry games are weird, though. Especially those of the Spurs-Lakers variety. There’s a different energy in the arena, no matter if it’s regular season or playoffs. Whether the Lakers are a top seed or below .500. There are so many San Antonio Laker/Kobe fans who show up at the AT&T Center for usually just two games a year, the Spurs fans in attendance have no choice but to step their games up, even if it’s just January.

With that energy comes the tension in the air, and physicality and frustration on the floor. That’s what leads to five technical fouls in the second half and two that alter the complexion of the game. The Lakers picked up three technicals in the third quarter for arguing calls and barking at officials. Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant and Chris Duhon all picked up violations for dissent.

Interestingly, those all came in the flow of the game and didn’t seem to alter the night’s proceedings. That Tony Parker missed one of the technical free throws is a reason for that as well. In the fourth quarter, Stephen Jackson nearly turned the game on its head. The Spurs lead by 12 points with 4:15 left in the game, before Kobe sunk a long 2-point jumper. Jackson to this point had scored 14 points and hit 4-of-6 3-pointers, making himself a big factor in the Spurs leading the Lakers.

On the following Spurs possession, Jackson missed a turnaround jumper over Kobe in the post. Jack thought he was fouled on the play and said as much (likely with enough expletives to drop a chunk of change in the swear jar) to the official and picked up a technical foul. Steve Nash hit the free throw and then Bryant nailed a 3-pointer off the in-bounds to cut the Spurs lead to six and force Coach Pop to take a timeout. Going into the timeout Jackson picked up his second technical and headed off to an early shower.

Steve Nash again hit the technical free throw and in just 30 seconds of actual game time, the Lakers had cut the Spurs’ lead in half and set up what would be a frustrating finish for the Spurs. Over the last 4:15 the Spurs scored just three points (a Manu 3 to go up six with 43 seconds left) and committed three turnovers. The Lakers, on the other hand, tallied 12 points over that stretch, took six more shots than San Antonio and didn’t have a single giveaway. It’s a break for the Spurs that the Lakers only shot 4-of-11 (36%) over that stretch, otherwise LA would be going back to the Staples Center with a win.

“We made some good stops at the end,” Tony Parker said after the game. “We need those to win the game. In basketball, it can go both ways and luckily it went our way tonight.”

As I said earlier, Kawhi Leonard was the only real bright spot for San Antonio. Some guys played well — Ginobili had 19 points, Parker had 24 — but Leonard had an all-around performance that was tough to overlook.

“I thought Kawhi’s defense in general, mostly on Kobe, but he also guarded World Peace and some other guys too, I thought he was the highlight of our game tonight,” Coach Pop said. “Kawhi was the star of the show as far as I’m concerned.”

Leonard did spend most of his night defending Kobe and frankly did as good of a job as humanly possible. Bryant finished with 27 points, but it took him 24 shots to do so and Leonard only racked up three fouls, meaning he did an excellent job limiting the efficiency that Bryant has improved upon in his game this season.

Leonard did this by rarely going for the pump-fakes Kobe takes advantage of lesser defenders with. I can remember only one time in the first half where Leonard was caught in the air by Bryant and committed a foul. Leonard’s length and foot speed were a big help in that regard.

With the Spurs leading 108-105 with 10 seconds left and the Lakers in-bounding the ball, Kawhi’s defense was again needed against Kobe. Los Angeles got the ball to Kobe on the left wing. Leonard closed out on Bryant hard and was able to contest the shot without running the risk of fouling thanks to the long wingspan.

Kobe’s shot missed and Earl Clark’s long 3-point attempt at the buzzer did as well, sealing a Spurs win that counts as a positive in the standings, despite what those involved felt afterward.

A couple more notes from San Antonio’s tight win over the Lakers:

  • Tim Duncan put up a strange stat line in the win over LA. Duncan finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three turnovers (eight turnovers in his last two games), but also contributed five assists and four blocked shots without committing a single foul. Really strange stuff. Offensively, Duncan really didn’t look sharp in this game, though you can probably say that about most of the Spurs.
  • Tiago Splitter with another double-double (14 points, 14 boards). That’s a double-double in each of his last two home games. Granted, the Lakers boasted a beat up front line that deployed Metta World Artest on Tiago for much of the game, but 14 rebounds is 14 rebounds.
  • Gary Neal is still not right. It’s not the 5-of-12 shooting, that’ll come around, but it’s the three turnovers that are concerning. One of Neal’s turnovers was of the “what the heck are you doing” variety as well, where Neal dribbled off of his own foot and out of bounds when he wasn’t facing any stiff ball pressure. I don’t know if he’s still rusty or he’s having trouble getting adjusted to whatever role the Spurs want for him, but Neal’s not in sync right now.
  • Speaking of turnovers: 19 in the game for the Spurs, making it a cool 39 in the last two games. Both the Lakers and Hornets were able to muck up San Antonio’s offense and the result was turnovers by the bunches.

Play-by-play and box score data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

  • Graham

    Definitely a ‘bad Win’ if there is such a thing. Our defense saved the bacon in this game, wonder of all wonders. Felt like we never put that game away for good and got caught up in the emotion way too much. But hey, still got the W and Pop has a slew of mistakes and breakdowns to browbeat the team back into mental shape for Memphis.

  • junierizzle

    I wouldn’t say it was a bad win when it was a bad loss for the Lakers. This game actually went as predicted. Spurs would cruise, get complacent thus ruining their rhythm, Kobe hitting crazy threes, next thing you know they are down by only five but still not enough. Just like the Clippers, they blew a 19 point lead and Lakers cut it to two. That’s how the Lakers are trying to win right now, they wait for the other team to get up big and lose interest then strike.

  • neverthehero

    Truth be told, would love to play a little messy and loose right now. Give something for Pop to harp on after All-Star Break and refocus.

  • Spurholic mumbai

    A three point struggle against a Lakers team with a front court comprising not of the second but third unit, Sacre and Clarke! Almost digging a defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Well questioning Coach, is not an experience journalists relish, yet some will have to muster the courage to ask ” How long will this experiment with Neal as back up point guard last? Given that Patty Mills (his most loyal fan in Mumbai) is a far more secure ball handler and a more pesky defender? Neal’s. main contribution to the team will come from his sharp shooting, not as the back up ball handler. During the last two games, his ineffective ball handling seems to be impacting his shooting, the strength which Spurs need most from him. He needs to play as a shooting guard. If Clippers can hide the defensive deficiencies of Jamal Crawford, surely the coaching staff can figure out the same for Neal.

    The other is the eternal q which remains, the ineffective front court if TD has an off day? If Earl Clarke could abuse the Spurs last nite, Ibaka and Perkins or Gasol and Randolph or Deandre and Griffin, well I don’t even want to go there?

  • Titletown99030507d

    14 points 14 rebounds from Splitter and registering blocks now consistently game after game isn’t enough? Not too long ago everybody was happy if Tiago could just make some free throws. Well he’s done that and more. Timmy is a first ballot HOF’er he better not have an off night or we come close to loosing especially if they decide to start playing street ball instead of the organized run your offense the kind of game they’re supposed to be playing. Adding to the problem is really the bad ball handling of Gary Neal like you said. Yes he can score once the microwave kicks in but the TO’s aren’t hardly worth the trade off especially if “Mills on Wheels’s” microwave is always on and can stick on a defender like a mosquito on day old leftovers.

  • Graham

    It was a case of Big v Small. Pop decided to ride splitter against MWP, and while metta abused spilitter on the perimeter, Tiago earned it back down low with solid PnR and Rebounding. The question is can he do this when the other team’s smallball 4 is a Durant or a Lebron?

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  • merkin

    The Spurs must still be in the xmas spirit b/c they’re “gifting” the ball away at an alarming rate.

  • junierizzle

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’d be surprised if Clark plays that good again. Some dude always gets his season guy against the Spurs. It was Clark’s turn. But we get the W more times than not.

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