Putting up 101 points, 109.8 points per 100 possessions, and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor against one of the best defensive teams in the league is pretty impressive, but the Laker offense came and went. Los Angeles was up by nine points at halftime, though if a few of those open threes or typical Laker mid-range looks go in, it could have been a 20-point deficit.
What killed me was how impotent San Antonio's offense looked.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, San Antonio was playing some of the worst offense in the NBA during March and April, and there was always the threat that this top-heavy team will fall to the ranks of the pitiful offensively should one or two of the big three have an off night.
With that said, it's still a bit odd to behold Tony Parker scoring just 13 points on 15 shots, or register the idea of Tim Duncan not being able to gather his footwork against a whippet-thin Pau Gasol, stuck with two fouls in the second quarter. Or Manu. Manu Ginobili. Man, what happened to that guy?
Nobody should take anything away from Los Angeles' effort, and we'll get to that later, but San Antonio's offensive dropoff seemed entirely of the champs' own making.
The team put up 77.2 points per 100 possessions, and that's just an incredibly low number. Seattle was worst in the NBA last year with just 97.6 points per 100, and though the Spurs dwindled offensively after the All-Star break, they still ended up with a 104.7 points per 100 average, good for 13th in the NBA.
But 77.2? Even when San Antonio was getting its spurs handed to them in Louisiana during the second round, the team was still averaging a little under 100 points per 100, so this was an epic falloff. Even considering the fact that Coach Pop (who I tend to respect more and more by the hour, these days, if that's possible) pulled his best players with about ten minutes to go in the contest.
It wasn't all San Antonio's doing. Phil Jackson kept changing the way his team handled Tony Parker, and though there was all sorts of help heading Derek Fisher's way, Fisher came through with a huge game on both ends.
Though all of his forays toward the basket didn't end with a made lay-in (he missed one shot, the jerk), Fisher still set a tone early, eschewed the long jumper (save for his last make, in Parker's face) and generally had the sort of game that has teammates saying, "damn, I'm glad he's on my team" as their gas-guzzlers slowly flicker down the El Lay freeways, away from expected lights and toward unexpected glares.
The defense, yeah, it was there too. I don't know how to do this without sounding like I'm straying too far into hyperbole, but the dismissal of Smush Parker and lucky addition of Derek Fisher might almost be nearly as important as the dismissal of Kwame Brown and the lucky addition of Pau Gasol for the Lakers.
Parker was that bad, especially defensively, and Fisher is just that solid. Meanwhile, Brown was horrible offensively, while passable defensively - and though Gasol is an all-world talent, this team's point guard switch did so, so much for these Lakers.
Also, notice I said, "might almost be nearly as important," punters.
Meanwhile, Kobe, fab: 22 points, five boards, five assists. He took a pair of LeBron-like 21-footers in the third quarter that I didn't agree with, but they both went in, so I should can it. Still, if the Lakers are to take both in Texas, he'll have to get to the line more than the five times we saw in the first two games of this series.
Lamar Odom: who we hoped he'd be. Quick decisions, sound follow-through (save for one jump-hook that he wants back), 20 points on ten shots, 12 boards, four blocks in just 32 minutes.
Los Angeles' bench? Decisive, and not just because of the extended gar-bage time that the fourth quarter provided.
Hollinger was right (no pun intended, upon edit), Sasha Vujicic is the only guy in this postseason who seems to understand that Ginobili is left-handed. Jordan Farmar is back, 14 points in 24 minutes. Luke Walton missed five of seven shots, but finally got that weak-side between-the-legs pass to work (Bill Cartwright never tried that) in the triangle, Sasha nailed it, and Luke finished with five rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 24 minutes.
(On another tip, it's been too long: Bill Walton needs to get better, faster. Say what you want about his bluster, but he's also a step ahead of all of us, and I miss him quite a bit. The Finals start in two weeks, BW.)
On San Antonio's end, man, 77.2 per 100.
It stinks horribly to watch Manu Ginobili play like this, the guy was such a white-hot force all season long (I remember watching him last November, in a game against Milwaukee, and it looked as if five Bucks couldn't stop him, much less two, or one, or four, or three), and it's a cruel joke that he's having to do his work in the Conference finals on one ankle and a middle finger on his shooting hand that is missing a fingernail.
That said, this isn't unprecedented for San Antonio. The 0-2 deficit isn't. The giant offensive swoons aren't. The doubt, you know this, is not. I'm sticking with my "Lakers in five" pick, but a few free throws or loose balls gone San Antonio's way in Game 4 (we're all giving Game 3 to the champs, right?) could change quite a bit.
We know what San Antonio can do better. Make shots, force Parker to be more aggressive earlier in the possession, ask that Duncan settle down. I've a feeling, even if the usual suspects (Michael Finley and Robert Horry combined to shoot 3-14) keep falling short, that things will work out in Game 3.
That said, if the Lakers finally put a whole 48 minutes of great offensive basketball together, and not just wait until the third quarter, any San Antonio improvement might not matter five pentatonic licks in the end. I'm not saying it's going to happen, I'm just saying that the Spurs should be careful, and that the Lakers should try to realize just how great they can be.