San Antonio Spurs 97, Los Angeles Lakers 82: Well, this was a pretty big game
AT&T CENTER — San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich never said anything to give the belief that this was the team’s most important game thus far this season. No, we all did that for him.
But he sure did wear the look of a man who knew this was a big game.
“Coach Pop came in yesterday at practice and set the tone,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said after the game. “He was real to the point and direct on what he expected us to do, especially on the defensive end.”
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News called it “Game Face Pop.”
And from top to bottom on Tuesday night, the Spurs reflected the attitude of their coach. San Antonio played quite possibly their best defensive game of the season in holding the Lakers to 35.4% shooting in a 97-82 win over the two-time defending champs.
“I don’t know how many points they scored, but it was one of the best defensive efforts we’ve had,” Manu Ginobili said after the game. “We made [Kobe] take tough 2′s, and that was one of the goals, and we didn’t foul as much.”
The Spurs defense harassed Lakers star Kobe Bryant into 21 points on 27 shots and five turnovers. George Hill and Ginobili were the primary defenders on Bryant, the pair took turns playing physical defense, and made several swipes and pokes at the ball, doing their best to frustrate Kobe.
In the second quarter, tensions finally boiled over and Bryant and Hill picked up double-technicals after getting tied up. It’s a moment that quite possibly inspired Hill’s Spurs’ teammates.
“George probably doesnâ€™t look at it as inspiration because that $2000 is coming out of his pocket,” Gary Neal said, referring to the fines levied on players when they pick up technical fouls. “George is a smart, active player, especially on the defensive end. Heâ€™s probably our bestÂ perimeterÂ defender.”
In the end, the Spurs won despite getting just 11 points combined from Manu and Tim Duncan. Duncan finished with only two points and four rebounds in his near-30 minutes of action.
“You would have never thought if you told anybody that Manu and Tim combine for 11 points that the Spurs would be the Lakers by double-digits. They would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Neal said.
But it happened. And DeJuan Blair was a big reason why. During the first half, I tweeted a couple of times that Blair was too small for this game. I won’t link to those tweets in order to limit the evidence that can be used against me, but I was not enthused by his performance during the first 24 minutes.
It seemed like the length of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum was just too much for Blair, and Blair’s second half minutes would probably be fulfilled by Antonio McDyess and Tiago Splitter. At the half, Blair had just four points and three rebounds.
In the second half, though, Blair used the only two weapons he had against the Lakers’ bigs: quickness and hustle.
Blair simply outworked his counterparts on the Lakers frontcourt in the third and fourth quarters and finished the game with 17 points on 8-14 from the field and 15 rebounds, easily Blair’s biggest game of the season.
Defensively, Blair used his nimble feet to play the position battle with the Lakers’ bigs in the post. On one possession he timed the entry pass into Pau Gasol perfectly and maneuvered around Gasol to pick it off.
“Tim and McDyess have been in my head and said to not think and just play basketball,” Blair said. “That’s what I did tonight and I had an excellent game.”
That he did. And because of it, the Spurs sit at 27-4 with a two-and-a-half game lead over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference standings.
If the Spurs can rack up similar results against other top teams this season, maybe eventually they can make this game look like just another regular season game in late December.