PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals, Spurs lead 1-0.
The Lakers hope for what they feel is a more evenly officiated game when they face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Duncan and Ginobili had strong all-around games and Robinson anchored a solid defensive effort, but the Lakers thought the referees had just as much to do with the Spurs’ 87-82 victory in Monday’s series opener.
Los Angeles pointed to San Antonio’s huge advantage from the foul line. The Spurs made 21 free throws in 35 attempts, while the Lakers attempted only 12.
“The difference was the foul shots. They had 35 attempts to our 12. That’s ridiculous in a ball game this hotly contested,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Tim Duncan had more than my whole ball team. I know it was an MVP night for him, but that’s ridiculous.”
Duncan was 8-of-14 at the line, part of a solid game on the night he was presented with the league MVP award. He finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
He got important help from one playoff veteran and one newcomer to the postseason.
Robinson finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and more importantly was able to stay out of foul trouble to play 30 minutes while defending Shaquille O’Neal. The Spurs held the Lakers to 39.5 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, including five by O’Neal.
“Our defense started with David,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “With Shaq, you’re not going to stop him, but you can make him work. Overall our team defense was good. It has to be that way or we’re not going to be in the game with these guys.”
Ginobili, a rookie guard from Argentina, made the most of the biggest game of his NBA career. He had 15 points, six rebounds and four steals, and made all three of his 3-point attempts, providing the offensive complement to Duncan the Spurs didn’t have last year, when they lost to the Lakers in five games in this round.
Still, the Lakers sounded as though they were more worried about adjusting to the officials than to the Spurs. O’Neal took only six free throws before fouling out, and Kobe Bryant had only two attempts at the line.
“From our standpoint as players it’s important to play through it,” Bryant said. “You can go to the refs and plead your case, but you just have to play through it.”
If they can’t, the Lakers will be looking at a much longer series with the Spurs than they are used to. Los Angeles swept San Antonio in the 2001 conference finals before last year’s five-game victory in the West semis.
Those series losses don’t seem to bother the Spurs, who gained confidence after winning all four meetings in the regular season.
“One of the things is that you’ve got to prove that you can get in there and you can win at home and on the road, and we’ve done that with this team,” Robinson said. “Obviously the work is still out there ahead of us, but we know that we can go there and we can win and we can take care of our business here.”
While the Spurs still have to prove they are the better team, there is no doubt they are the healthier one. The Lakers have already lost starting forward Rick Fox to a foot injury for the remainder of the playoffs, and Devean George, his replacement, was forced to leave in the fourth quarter of Game 1 with a sprained ankle.
It remains uncertain when George will return, though he’s expected to miss Game 2. He said Tuesday the ankle was still sore, but the swelling was down.
“I’m able to put a little pressure on it, but I’ll stay on crutches for another day,” George said. “If I can continue to progress, I could be back before the series is over.”
As long as George is out, Los Angeles would be severely short-handed against a deeper San Antonio team that gets contributions from reserves Ginobili, Malik Rose and Speedy Claxton. George’s absence will make it that much tougher for the Lakers to avoid falling into a two-game deficit, which they didn’t have to face in any series during their run to three straight NBA titles.
“We wanted to come down here and get two,” O’Neal said. “Now we can just get one, but we can still take the home-court advantage.”
Game 3 is Friday night at Los Angeles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Lakers - 50-32, 5th seed; beat Minnesota 4-2, first round. Spurs - 60-22, 1st seed; beat Phoenix 4-2, first round.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 32.6 ppg and 6.0 apg; O’Neal, 16.1 rpg. Spurs - Duncan, 20.0 rpg, 14.9 rpg and 5.4 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Spurs, 4-0. San Antonio completed its first season sweep of Los Angeles since 1993-94 with a 98-89 victory at the SBC Center on March 23. Bryant averaged 31.5 points in the four games, but shot only 37.6 percent from the floor. O’Neal missed the first two games while recovering from surgery on his toe. Duncan had double-doubles in all four games, averaging 21.3 points and 16.3 rebounds.