San Antonio Spurs 103, Los Angeles Lakers 82: Spurs sweep aside injury-ravaged Lakers
The Spurs have moved on to the second round after a thorough 103-82 dismantling of the emaciated, broken-down Lakers, but the story here was the purple and gold mess that stained the Staples Center floor. An aging roster, nonexistent payroll flexibility, an injured Kobe Bryant and overall sense of future uncertainty cloaks Los Angeles with a cloud of issues that extend far beyond being swept by a clearly superior team.
And then there’s Dwight Howard.
It will certainly be the talk of the summer. Again. What jersey will Howard be donning around Halloween next year? And you can be assured that certain antics will once again be called into question. Leading the way with a roster already ravaged by injury, the big man, the supposed post-Kobe “hope” of the Lakers franchise, lost his head and ended up taking an early trip down the locker room tunnel. Dwight was grabbed, pulled and hammered throughout the game, but as a brute physical force with no jumper and virtually no ability to make a free throw, that’s going to be par for the course throughout his career. If he handles it like this, “dependability” will continue to be the first word anyone brings up in their assessment of the superstar. He’s got everything else, it’s just the stuff between his ears that raises red flags.
Now, it must be said. He had virtually no one around to help outside of his partner in the paint, Pau Gasol. The Lakers’ starting lineup looked nothing like the one they had envisioned when they made offseason moves worthy of a Hollywood production last summer. No Kobe. No Steve Nash. No Metta World Peace. A dramatic exit for the 2012-13 version of Dwight. If it is to be turned into a movie, the script is already written. The Spurs just offered the conclusion.
It’s wild the difference a week makes. Before tip of Game 1 on April 21, San Antonio was heading to the postseason as unsure of itself as it’s ever been. Gregg Popovich said he was as concerned as he could remember about one of his teams entering the postseason. After going 10-10 over their final 20 regular-season games, after enduring significant injuries to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw, after shockingly cutting ties with Stephen Jackson with five games remaining, the Spurs have bounced back in tremendous fashion. It helps to go up against a troubled and depleted Lakers squad, but San Antonio has been as good on both sides of the ball as it’s been all season. And it’s the play of Parker and Ginobili that’s been most emblematic of this.
When you try to analyze the progress of recently injured players, you look for physical evidence in their play — whether it’s a feat of athleticism or an unorthodox ‘pet move’ — and both of the Spurs guards demonstrated extremely positive examples of their progress. Parker exhibited an array of unbelievable finishes around the basket, including one off his patented spin moves while driving to the basket on top of the And-1′s he connected on during Sunday’s game. We haven’t seen the pre-injury TP since he sprained his ankle nearly two months ago, especially given all the extra injuries he’s had the pleasure of dealing with along the way. But his performances as this series wound down were telling of his physical state. We kind of figured we’d once again see the All-Star point guard’s real self at some point, but we did not have a great feel for what Ginobili would be upon his return.
Then this happened.
As mundane and commonplace as a dunk is to most NBA teams, this aggressive slam points to the seemingly stable condition of Ginobili’s hamstring. When he makes moves like that, when Parker is performing dance moves in the paint, you know things are looking and feeling good for a team that’s about to enter a “track meet” against whichever second-round opponent it faces. It only gets more difficult from here, but with an upcoming extended break, the Spurs have the opportunity to regain full strength in the near future. The playoff version of “full strength,” anyway. San Antonio is looking at a potential matchup with a suddenly nuclear Golden State team that’s currently up 3-1 in its first-round series with the Denver Nuggets, so all cylinders must be firing if indeed the Warriors find their way to the Alamo City. But for now, the silver and black will rest and prepare.
The Lakers’ saga has finally come to an end — for now — while the Spurs’ story is just getting to the good part. But, in comparison, it’s just more of an indie flick than the blockbuster that has consumed Los Angeles.