Ball Don't Lie - NBA

San Antonio Spurs 103, Los Angeles Lakers 84 

Come on.

Like I'm going to tell you anything new here? These are the defending champs, and while I may have picked the Lakers to down this team in five (and still believe that), you can't beat a team like the Spurs three times in three go's, with one go going down in San Antonio. It doesn't happen.

And really, you'll have to understand that I'm not acting nonplussed or giving this BtB the short shrift because it's a holiday or because Heineken makes those wonderful little mini-kegs for 20 quid or because soon I'll be off to a barbeque where squid ceviche has been promised to me in so many words.

The reason I'm acting this circumspect is because you could have picked out the result of this game two weeks ago, even when New Orleans seemed to be in charge of their series with San Antonio, and even before most had been disabused of the notion that Utah hadn't a chance against the Lakers should they refuse to stop fouling away from the ball.

Seriously, a Game 3 at home? After the Lakers won the first two in alternating despondent and decisive styles? Anyone who bet on Los Angeles in Game 3 should be ashamed, and even when the Lakers took a 26-23 lead midway through the second quarter ... come on!

OK, I'll get away from the "analysis" I usually loathe, what "sounds right" or "seems right" based on skimming for context and using what happened 20 years ago as a basis for expecting what should go right or wrong in 2008; but you have to admit, this was about as predictable as things go, right?

I mean, I'll give you another one: a few hours after you read this, I predict that I will call my younger brother a "churlish, sell-out," mainly because he's going to pick the Angels or Red Sox in an intra-family RBI Baseball slugfest that has me choosing and losing with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Seriously. I know it's going to happen, I shouldn't feel surprised when Ellis Burks comes off the pine to nail a pinch-hit homer off of Todd Worrell in the top of the 9th. Doesn't mean I'm going to take it gracefully. 

I also predict that my brother will mock me for utilizing the word "churlish," as a defense for not knowing what the word "churlish" means, and also as a passive/aggressive response to what happened over Mother's Day afternoon, when I lapped the churlish sell-out in a game of Wiffle-ball home run derby.

Here's where we should have known that the Lakers weren't going to surprise us on Sunday night: Kobe Bryant came out early, firing up 21-footers, and trying to knock in daggers even when the score was 2-2. Now, you have to appreciate the aggressive touch, the ability to get those shots off on someone like Bruce Bowen, and Bryant's unyielding acumen for playing to what his stage tends to demand, but it killed his team.

Absolutely killed it. Usually I'm loathe to try and blame 48 minutes of play on the twinge of someone doing 150 seconds worth of work, and it's a bit hard when you remember that Kobe actually nailed four of his first five shots, but he made it so the Laker offense (you may have heard of it, I'm kind of a fan) never actually got its bearings. It never touched the ball.

And when the bench came in, and Lamar Odom was asked to lead early in the second quarter, LO hadn't a chance.

Now, that's as much on Odom as it is on Kobe. Odom was passing up jump hooks and screwing up all over the place for the duration of Game 3, save for his typical run on the defensive boards (11 rebounds, eight defensively), but Odom doesn't know any better. Kobe, who has been working within this offense since October of 1999 (wrist injury be damned, back then) should know better.

San Antonio's end? They were brilliant. They have been, you know, since the early 1990's. There was one blip, Monty Williams had a bit to do with it, David Robinson's foot turned into powder, Dominique Wilkins stopped by for a spell, I think it was 1996-97, but mainly it's been long playoff runs as the rule.

Johnny Ludden, as is his custom, nailed it. Manu Ginobili was righteous. The guy was going right! He tore the Lakers up in the first half, 22 points, finished with 30 in 31 minutes, took just 15 shots, and generally played like the beast we saw from November to April. The best sixth man this league has ever seen. It's not even close.

Meanwhile, there's a reason Tony Parker had average (for him) stats (20 points and five assists) but was +26 on the game - this cat made the Spurs go, go, go. His penetration made San Antonio dangerous again, and you had to appreciate the instinct and the level-headed play that allowed the Spurs to act as if they were adding to a big lead over the Pacers from some game from last winter, as opposed to a season-saving win over the Los Angeles Lakers in late May.

Also, Tim Duncan. 22 points and 21 rebounds, with five assists. Yawn. Come on, best power forward ever, tell me something I don't know.

Here's the issue: the Lakers can do better. Lamar Odom (six assists, five turnovers, 2-11 shooting) can show up. Kobe can trust the offense, and send it inside. Phil Jackson can tell his team that its best run came when Pau Gasol had the ball and was making decisive moves. Derek Fisher can gather his feet and move toward the spot he knows Tony Parker wants to drive into.

The Lakers can improve, and sadly, there might not be much San Antonio can do about it. I picked a Game 4 road win for Los Angeles, I'm not backing down from that, and we'll just have to see if the Lakers are up for it.

In the meantime, the Spurs played like the champions that they are. For one night, at least, their brand of orthodoxy was an absolute gas to take in.

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