Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 89, San Antonio Spurs 85

Too many words ... lack of a linear thought pattern ... trying to eschew caffeine unless absolutely necessary ... great game that overwhelmed the senses ... you know what that means ... 

Notebook style!

*After the first half and for the better part of the third quarter, TNT commentators kept talking about how Los Angeles' defense needed to improve for the Lakers to have a shot, and I had to respectfully disagree. I'm telling you, it was the Laker offense that was the problem.

For starters, the Lakers gave up 51 points in the first half, and that's just fine in what was a faster (91 possessions) game than San Antonio was used to. If that holds up, and the Spurs score 102 points in the game, the Lakers are far capable of winning that battle. The issue was that Los Angeles had just 47 points halfway into the third quarter, and were on pace for an eight-point quarter at the midway point of the third - San Antonio was on pace for a 28-point quarter, and it's far less egregious to give up 28 points than it is to score just eight.

Now, Los Angeles only scored 89 in the win, which underlines just how much they have to get better offensively. The team scored just 97.8 points per 100 possessions, down from a stellar 117.7 mark in the postseason; and while they'll still have to improve, it won't be by much in order to take the series.

San Antonio's offense did suffer over the last 18 minutes of the game, but it wasn't as if the Lakers did much differently on the defensive end save for settling down a bit and not overplaying the screen and roll. It just appeared as if San Antonio - having to take the ball out of the nets for the first time - rushed shots and missed open looks.

Tim Duncan didn't square his body on a jump hook attempt, and it would go back iron. Michael Finley didn't square his shoulders on a corner three attempt, and it was way off. Spurs took early, bad shots. That was more San Antonio's poor decision-making in the face of an improved L.A. offensive attack, than anything new that the Lakers were doing defensively.

*Kobe Bryant may have only taken three shots, making one, in the first half; but he wasn't acting as some sort of benevolent master, keeping his teammates' hands warm. He was just playing smart basketball, taking what the defense gave him (this is a guy who opened up the game on the first possession taking a open jumper, what the defense gave him). Throw in a four and a half minute rest to start the second quarter, and that's how two-point halves result.

It wasn't his fault that his Laker teammates weren't hitting shots, or putting up some lousy perimeter looks. What was his fault was the slow start to the third quarter, Bryant wasn't being aggressive wasn't taking good shots, and wasn't making himself a dangerous decoy off the ball.

When he did settle in, you could tell the exact, precise moment when he decided "nah" on a pull-up jumper from too far out - as Kobe drove into the open mid-range lanes and took the game over. It was so sweet to watch, such a brilliant player being able to work in his wheelhouse.

I'm sorry for continually bringing up the LeBron comparison, but it's so nice to be able to see a superstar get the ball in his comfort zones, be able to work (driving, poking, prodding, pulling up) without three defenders hanging all over him, while the potential help defense (as Kobe mentioned post-game) stuck to the shooters wearing purple and gold.

27 points on 21 shots for Kobe, nine assists to just one turnover.

*I like how Reggie Miller is still trying to tell us that the Spurs are somehow "emotionally tired," - odd phrase - because of how involved this team was in the second round series win over the Hornets. If you'll recall, Miller was saying the same thing after Games 1 and 2 against New Orleans, claiming that the first round victory over the Suns took too much out of San Antonio to move on. Then the Spurs went ahead and won four of five, including a Game 7 on the road.

It's one game, Reggie. I have the Lakers winning this series, but not because of some sort of mental fatigue. If there's one team on earth, in any sport, that isn't going to falter on the cerebral side of things, it's these San Antonio Spurs. And if they lose, it's not because of something that Morris Peterson did to them 17 days ago.

Also laughable was Reg's assertion that "Manu Ginobili has to be the man" in Game 2. Manu won't be the man against the Lakers. He can't be the man. He's averaged 13.3 points on 29.3 percent shooting in four games against Los Angeles this year, and that's not going to turn on its heel.

The best San Antonio can hope for is an average game from Ginobili, and if they get that (assuming every other Spur holds up), then the Spurs likely have that hypothetical game won.

*Derek Fisher's 1-9 game might seem like a fluke if you look at the box score on its own, but if you'd seen the game, you'd believe me when I say that he'll go 1-9 in every game in this series if he continues to take the shots he took.

Once a game, it seems as if the Lakers throw Fisher a bone by letting him take a pull jumper on the elbow that never seems to go in. Once a game. Tonight, he seemed to throw eight of those shots up there, none of them felt like they had a chance even before he released the ball (most were contested), and his lone make was a smart, improvised drive and layup after Jacque Vaughn tried to pressure the ball and take Los Angeles out of its offense.

Fisher can't play this way again if the Lakers want to take the series. He did do a sound job on Tony Parker in the fourth quarter, Tony missed all four of his shots, but that also had a lot to do with Parker's personal decision-making.

*Vladimir Radmanovic: ten first quarter points, zero points the rest of the way in 12 minutes. Then again, the guy sat for the entire second and fourth quarters. If Vlad is the Space Man, than Phil Jackson is still Captain Trips.

*Want to know why Sasha Vujacic was +25 in the game? Tough, tough rebounds from a guard. You have to love it when guards rebound, and Sasha pulled in five on Wednesday night in just 31:30. Compare that to the seven Los Angeles' starting center (Pau Gasol) pulled in during 39+ minutes of play, and see why the Lakers are walking a tightrope on the glass.

A commenter pointed out yesterday that the Lakers did average more rebounds per game than the Spurs during the regular season, which is fine, but Los Angeles played at a much faster pace (allowing for more rebounds), and played 35 games with Andrew Bynum, who was one of the better rebounders in the league with 10.2 caroms in only 29 minutes a game. The teams' rebounding rates were about the same in the regular season, but San Antonio has to get the edge overall once you factor in Bynum's absence.

Things were just about even in Game 1, San Antonio out-rebounded Los Angeles by one, but the Lakers (those guards, especially) have to continue to dive after every loose-ball they see if they want to pull out this series. Guards have to rebound. Extremely important.

Give me bigs that can pass and guards that can rebound, and I'll win you a ring. That's sort of why Phil Jackson has won nine as a coach.

*Overall, Tim Duncan played a masterful game, with 30 points, 18 rebounds, two assists, four turnovers, and four blocks. But he really rushed things in the fourth quarter and the end of the third, while going just 1-4 from the field (4-5 from the line) in seven minutes during the final quarter.

*The game was called quite well, to these eyes. One particularly bad call went against the Spurs in the fourth quarter (Tim Duncan was fouled under the Laker basket, but the refs whistled that the ball went out of bounds cleanly and was Los Angeles' ball), but it didn't matter (Los Angeles missed its next shot) and was quickly mitigated by a make-up call -- Manu Ginobili fouled Pau Gasol and then knocked the ball out of bounds, but the Spurs took possession.

*Gregg Popovich is brilliant, but that doesn't mean we can't nitpick. Not only is Michael Finley (4-19 over the last four games) missing shots, he's making bad decisions with the ball. Twice Finley shot the ball with just a few ticks taken off the shot clock on Wednesday night, and all of his misses (Fin went 0-5) were from long range. Because he's giving you nothing on defense these days, why not go with Brent Barry instead?

Also, I understand having Robert Horry as your inbound passer in a late-game situation, but Horry had played just four minutes in the first quarter before sitting until there were 19 seconds left in the contest. Horry may have made the highlight reels years ago with clutch shooting, but his awful shooting also cost the Lakers a ring in 2003, and the Spurs some hardware the next year. Few seem to remember this. Barry can inbound the ball just fine, so why chain him to the bench for the final ten minutes of the game?

*Phil Jackson's defensive schemes often focus on letting a specific player beat you with a shot he's not used to putting up, and Bruce Bowen was that guy on Wednesday. Bowen responded quite well, hitting 5-8 from the floor including a few mid-range pops, and his defense was just sickeningly good at times.

Again, it wasn't always Kobe choosing to let his teammates take shots in that first half. Bowen was beating Bryant to his spots, and letting the Laker offense (which usually doesn't run set players, rather, it reacts to the decisions the defense makes) go elsewhere.

*This series is going to be terrific. If the Lakers come back to the norm offensively, Game 2 might be a little lopsided (a little), but the next batch after that are going to be hellacious.

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