By Jason Wojciechowski on May 22, 2008 at 3:44 AM
So because the Lakers are goddamn horrible, I'm going to blog the awfulness to keep myself from punching things, like the poor cat, who just wants to nap in peace. The liveblog is followed by my (as usual) completely scattered thoughts on the game, the matchups, and what's happening going forward.
We're at the ~8:00 minute mark in the third quarter the and the Spurs lead has ballooned due to the refs not bailing out Derek Fisher twice, terrible attempts to thread the needle, an awful pass by Pau Gasol, and the fact that it's clear Kobe doesn't have a jump shot tonight. This even though Duncan has already traveled once and gotten away with an egregious offensive foul, pushing Lamar Odom, which resulted in a makeup three-seconds call on Oberto. We're in time-out now as Phil Jackson tries to pull the Lakers heads out of their asses. The Lakers are just not crisp right now and you can't beat the Spurs unless either (a) you're super-crisp; (b) two of their three best players are hurt.
7:52: There's some offense, nice pass to Kobe at the free-throw line, easy jumper.
7:34: Still not a stop, but Parker missed a floater he usually makes. Rebound, bad foul by the Spurs.
7:19: Duncan gets away with a big reach in on Pau. Badly missed shot.
6:57: Finally a turnover, leads to a fumbled pass that would have been a wide-open three, eventually lost ball by Sasha, leading to a midrange jumper by Udoka. God!
6:29: Bryant still can't shoot.
6:25: Farmar still can't guard Parker, but he can put an elbow in his back. Two free throws for Parker, sunk them both.
6:11: Offensive rebound, easy, but they fumble the ball right into the Spurs. Two more points given away.
5:54: Gasol still can't guard Duncan. Easy hook for Tim.
5:32: Finally a jumper by Bryant, which'll help, but it's not going to be enough. Free throws, Kobe, free throws! I think he doesn't feel confident that the refs are going to give the offense borderline calls tonight, so he's relying on the outside and midrange game instead of the drives to the bucket. This is not to say the referees are calling a bad game, they're just calling a game that gives the defense the benefit of the doubt. (This will, of course, benefit the Spurs, so one has to hope that the trend won't continue all series. If David Stern has anything to say about it, and Pops hasn't turned off his Stern Button, it won't.)
5:13: Turnover by the Spurs into easy two for Gasol off a pass by Bryant, very nice. Finally. Characteristic timeout by Pops, who hates it when the other team scores twice in a row.
16 points is a hell of a deficit, yo.
4:42: Vujacic blocks Manu's shot, leading to an airball from someone and then a foul on Ime.
4:33: Kobe three. Ok, maybe jumpers can work after all.
4:10: Duncan miss, tough shot, good defense by Pau to push him away from the bucket.
3:55: Bryant to the drive game, gets Ime's fourth foul, which is a happy occurrence. On the replay, I really don't see the foul. What was I saying about the defense getting the benefit of the doubt?
Collins is talking about Pops being nervous. With his team up at 11 going back down the floor. Uh, ok. I mean, yeah, the last two minutes have been bad for San Antonio, but really.
3:35: Nice poke-away by Pau on Parker ends up delaying the offense, leading to a contested shot by Dunc.
3:08: Sasha dagger special! It came after a Kobe miss resulted in a long Laker rebound.
2:47: But then Dunc blocks Kobe's drive after a missed wide open three.
That's a horrible fucking call by the refs -- Ginobli flies into Pau, pushing Gasol into Tim, and the foul goes on Pau!? Jesus fucking christ. Karma says Dunc misses the first one. Karma says "yeah bitch", as he misses both.
2:28: Pau gets shoved in the back on a Kobe lob, no call, but Pau gets the shot to fall anyway. That was an unfuckingbelievable no-call. On the replay, Finley has both hands squarely in Pau's back. That's ridiculous. It's called And-1! Come on!
Still, the lead is down to six as the Lakers have gone on a tremendous run. Ok, so maybe Doug was right that Pops should be nervous. But still, no overconfidence, L.A.
2:19: Sasha special again as Ginobli elbows Vujacic as he's riding his ass across the court.
2:05: Well-defended lob attempt by Dunc on Pau leads to easy three for Ginobli on the other end. There goes the run.
1:38: Jesus, another lob from Kobe to Pau, this one works again. Is that three in a row?
1:15: Patented Duncan left elbow glass shot. Too easy.
57.9: Kobe behind the back, step-back, up-fake, step under, easy. Jesus, so smooth, so easy. Did Michael have these moves?
39.2: Parker special, too easy into the lane. Come on, L.A., keep him out!
26.7: Kobe drive, dish inside to Pau, tough play but results in a Pau bucket. Interior passing by Kobe is another nice skill, especially with great finishers inside.
0.0: And the quarter finishes with Parker missing a tough shot inside and a Laker rebound.
Ok, so the first half of the quarter was awful, the second half was beautiful, and the result is that we're basically where we were at halftime, Lakers down seven. It could be worse, but it could be better -- if their heads had gotten out of their asses sooner, this could be a tied ballgame or even a small Laker lead. Each team blew the other out of the gym for six minutes.
I'm curious to see what lineup Phil goes with at the start of the quarter. He likes to rest Kobe at this time, but can he do that? Is Lamar-Sasha-Jordan-Ronny-Luke enough? They played well in the first half, putting up +3 with Kobe out, but I'm not sure now is the time, in Game 1 of the WCF, to take chances.
Phil says Kobe went to the Bermuda Triangle in the first half. Marv refers to him as "the basketball standup."
12:00: Kobe's on the floor.
11:43: Bowen pulled the chair out from under Kobe, who takes a spill, but holds the ball and takes a twenty. That sucks from a timeout perspective, because hopefully this will be a close game. If it's not, it's a Spurs blowout, so not having that twenty could hurt. Nice defensive play by Bowen on Kobe's half-spin move.
11:39: Horrible miss on a three by Kobe.
11:30: Spurs miss a quick non-transition three. Pops executes a Spur. I think it was Damon Stoudamire.
11:10: Kobe saves the bacon with a steal in the backcourt making it five, after an easy Turiaf miss inside.
10:50: Brent Barry tried to go inside, but he's white and can't jump. Vujacic's shoulder is bothering him, the same one he was holding earlier in the game. This could be something to watch. His defense will still be tenacious, but hopefully his jump shot isn't affected.
10:30: Miss on the Fisher patented jumper. He has to hit those most of the time for the Lakers.
10:18: Good foul by Luke on Duncan's wide open drive on a discombobulated Laker defense. Plus he almost got ball. But Tim hits both, sigh. Back to seven.
10:03: Pass broken up, as the Spurs have been doing all game. I'm not sure what Kobe was thinking with the pass, as the Spurs defense was all over it. Luckily, it's knocked out of bounds, Laker ball. Bryant then hits a jumper off the inbounds.
9:41: Manu misses a wide open three. Whew. The Spurs are just getting too many of those. If they'd hit one or two more that they missed, this game would look really ugly.
9:30: Ronny misses a jumper. Ronny, I don't know man, maybe in the first half that's an ok shot, and I guess you have to pretend you're not Mark Madsen, but I don't really like it when you're not dunking the ball. It was a wide open look from about 17, though, so it's not like it was a terrible shot. He makes some of those.
9:14: Three point play opportunity for Dunc as Turiaf fouls him. In real time, it looked like a foul. On reply, I'm not sure what it was. Maybe a push in the gut with the off hand. Another missed FT, though. Seven.
8:58: Fisher drive, he's all shoulders, fighting tough, push with the head and shoulders, difficult finish. Wow. That's a Fisher special: not pretty in any kind of way, but it's points in the bucket. Five.
8:41: Turiaf fouls the jump shooting Dunc, three fouls already on L.A. I don't know about that call.
Hey hey, Frank Robinson is here. And, uh, Brad Garrett. Pat Sajak! That's a new one. Tobey Maguire! So cute.
Ok, Timmy, time for a one-for-two special. He hits the first, making my wishes less likely to come true. And the second. Seven.
8:34: Out of bounds, still Laker ball. Fisher doesn't understand the lack of fouls on the Spurs here. Pick and roll, Bryant all the way to the bucket, he gets all slithery (Fisher's more of a Hufflepuff), finish. Five.
8:10: Kobe with another tough finish inside, three. This came after a Parker miss on the baseline on the other side.
7:40: Near steal by Kobe, but then Bruce hits the damn corner three. I hate him.
7:18: Tough shot by Kobe, miss. He's doing his Kobe thing, which he has to be careful of, because I don't mean the "Kobe leading the team to victory" thing but the "Kobe takes every shot regardless of whether it's good or bad" thing.
6:56: Spurs miss, the ball works down to Lamar inside who stays in the lane a loooong time, then puts up a tough shot from like the baseline, but gets a bailout foul on Finley. And hey, Lamar hits the first free throw! Five. Lamar's talking to himself. Hits the second. Four.
6:40: Fuck. Fisher misses another patented transition jumper after nice hands by Pau result in a steal. Jesus. I smelled a one-possession lead. I can see why Farmar has been getting more time in this game than in the Utah series. That and Farmar's nice offensive spurt in the first half, that is.
6:10: Parker missed three, lucky offensive board by Dunc. Well, to be fair, not pure luck (it never is, I guess), because Dunc did fight for the ball, but it did bounce right into the spot between Pau in front of him with defensive rebound position and the man behind him who had been guarding Parker.
5:50: Udoka in-and-out, loose ball foul by Dunc, I'm not sure where the foul was. Maybe a little shove with an underneath hand. Doug's talking about how Dunc set up the play by passing on a wide-open foul-shot jumper. He's right. I'm not sure what Dunc is thinking there. He's not KG from the middle of the floor, but he's certainly good enough to hit that shot. Instead, Laker ball, still four, plus one extra foul on the Spurs and Duncan are the result.
I don't understand these G2 ads. What the hell is happening? Especially the Nomar & Mia one. That's just weird. "We're not bowling." And Zo? "Watch out Tiger?" Come on. This isn't funny, it's just uncomfortable.
5:30: Terrible shot by Kobe, he did precisely what Bowen wanted him to do. L.A. has to move into position for a bailout pass at that point, and Kobe has to make that pass.
5:12: Parker dropped a pass from Manu that would have given him a wide open shot. Lucky. Same as what happened to L.A., with Sasha in the corner in the first half. Results in a missed jumper elsewhere.
4:57: Pick and roll foul on Bowen, four on him. Yes.
4:47: Sasha misses the open three off a PAR drive by Kobe. What was I saying about his jump shot?
4:32: Steal by Fisher off the long cross court desperation pass by Manu (bad play) results in two Fish free throws on the other end. Hits the first, three. Hits the second, two points now. Fist pump.
4:13: Pau swats the shit out of a Manu shot. Good, because Fish had switched to him. We miss the shot on the inbounds because TNT is still running the replay, but a Laker rebound results in a miss in transition. Ugh. Odom is not on his game.
3:39: Very nice D by Gasol with help by Odom on Dunc, but the miss results in a ball out of bounds to the Spurs as Odom just fumbles it. Unlucky / poor play by Lamar.
3:33: Finley open dagger attempt, miss. Whew. I was waiting for that. You knew he was going to get an open three, and you know he always seems to hit them.
3:18: Odom has the mismatch on Finley, easy back down, little hooky shot, almost comes off the rim, but drops in, tie game. That was the obvious play and Kobe got the ball to the right spot. Finley can't really guard anyone as a general matter, but asking him to play Lamar is just unfair. I mean, Lamar's a tough guard for everyone in the league except guys like Tayshaun Prince (ok, I guess that means except for Tayshaun because there isn't anyone like him), but Finley's like 6'6". He's giving up four inches and probably thirty to forty pounds to Odom, not to mention Lamar's ridiculous length and his knowledge of how to use that length to finish in the lane. Woo, tie game.
3:00: Great feed inside by Dunc to Parker, but the Lakers knock it out of Parker's hands and Kobe ends up with it in transition. Nice defensive play again after the initial mistake of permitting the entry pass.
2:42: Kobe baseline clear out, drive, foul on Bowen. He's not happy, and I see why. Kobe basically jumped into his chest. The refs have completely reversed course since the first half and are giving the offense the benefit of the doubt this time around. Spurs are over the limit, so Kobe's shooting two. Lakers take their first lead. Plus one. Plus two.
2:30: Contested drive by Parker, kick to Udoka, his man hadn't collapsed, shoots a contested three, hits about as much of the rim as you'd expect Ime Udoka to hit on a heavily contested three standing right next to an excited Laker bench.
2:17: Kobe pick and roll with Pau, Duncan can't really come up on him, Kobe strokes the jumper like ... well, this is a family site. (Ok, no it's not, but whatever.) Plus four.
1:55: Udoka has a three, pump fakes his man into the air, steps in for an open two, blows everything (this is the problem with relying on Ime Udoka -- the magic wears off). The ball falls to Parker, who tries to put up a shot, but Pau swats it away without much trouble. Laker ball again.
1:32: Pau has a mismatch on Manu, Kobe gets the ball to him, but Pau can't find the open man because Duncan comes over to double and the Spurs rotate to the easy looks well. Pau throws a tough pass to Fisher who catches it but doesn't have the space he wants for a three. He pumps his man into the air, drags over to his left and in for a two, and misses again. Over the backboard, Spurs ball. Fisher's jumper is just straight up Ugh Lee tonight.
1:22: Fisher and Ginobli both flop on a Manu drive, but Fisher gets hit with his fifth foul, and Ginobli goes to the line as L.A. is over the limit. Plus three. Plus two.
1:04: Lamar to the hole, classic Lamar spin, miss, Duncan rebounds, it looks like Lamar knocks it out of his hands, Danny Crawford calls the ball to the Lakers. Duncan is pissed, appeals to the third base umpire. After talking with the Undercover Brother and the Third Dude, the call is still Laker ball. Lucky lucky break for L.A., as if no Laker touched the ball, it probably, as Doug is saying, should have been a pushing or hacking foul on L.A. Excellent turn of events here as there's basically a minute to play and a full shot clock. That said, L.A. needs a bucket to make it a two possession game.
Yeah, on replay, that's just a dead hack by Gasol, completely blown call by the refs. You can understand how they missed it, because Pau was shielding the outside ref with his body while Lamar was shielding Crawford off from the play. To Crawford, it'd look like Duncan just fumbled the ball after coming down with it. Huge break for L.A.
55.4: Ball denial on Kobe leaves the baseline relatively open for Pau who goes up for the dunk, good recovery by Duncan, who maybe blocks the shot or maybe just alters it. Pau goes to chase down the ball on the other side as it's heading out of bounds, Manu goes flying with a hip check into him, but no foul is called (makeup!) and Pau was the last guy to touch the ball. That's two blown calls in the space of ten seconds. God.
On replay, you can really see that Gasol is going in a straight line for the ball until Manu hits him, when he's throw about two feet to the left of where he would have ended up. Loose ball scrums aren't basketball, they're ugly. Call fouls on these plays, referees! It's not rugby!
41.7: Duncan goes up for a tough contested shot in the lane, misses, goes back up for the follow, and it actually looks like it's Lamar who pushes the ball through for San Antonio. Obviously Duncan gets the credit, but that's a hell of a break for the Spurs since Lamar and Kobe were both there in front of Duncan, but the ball bounced straight back out instead of to one side or the other. Tie game.
23.9: Bryant drives the lane after a failed PAR, puts a shoulder into Bowen around the foul line, Bowen staggers back, Bryant has an easy 15-footer, nothing but net. Is it an offensive foul? If you're a Spurs fan or Bruce Bowen, obviously yes. If you're a Laker fan, you say that it's a "play on" 95% of the time, and the refs swallow their whistles in the last minute, so ... plus two.
(Are we all better off if we don't have to play these stupid guessing games about fouls? Of course.)
Spurs time out with 20.0 seconds to go.
On the replay, it turns out that it might have been Kobe who actually put the ball through for the Spurs. Ugh.
And on the other end, if it's an offensive foul on Kobe, it's not egregious, at the level of Michael against Bryon Russell or something. He maybe gets an elbow into Bowen, but he doesn't extend the arm, and Bowen looks like there's some acting going on as well.
7.3: Ginobli misses the game-winning three. He wasn't wide open, but he was open enough to make it. Luckily, he's off tonight. There's a scrum for the ball, and Sasha comes out with it, getting fouled as he races toward the other end of the floor. He hits the first free throw. Plus three. Plus four. That's our Sasha! Yes! The Machine!
Doug says, "If the Lakers were going to come back, they had to do it on the defensive end." That's true, and that's precisely what they did. The offense wasn't tremendous, as they'll be well under 100 at the end of this, but they've so far held the Spurs to 85 despite 51 at the half, which is fantastic. Missed shots have helped, but the Laker defense has been much more disruptive in this half.
0.0: Finley airballs a difficult fallaway three and the game is over. What a great comeback by the Lakers. They got outplayed for 30 minutes, ending up down twenty, but they in the final 18 minutes, they were plus 24, which is tremendous, and turns out to have been just enough to win. I was gloomy about this game before it started, I was really gloomy in the first half, and I was apoplectic in the third quarter. Then came the blog. Clearly it worked.
What did we learn about matchups in this first game? Fisher and Farmer can't guard Parker, as I said. Pau is a better shot blocker than I remember, though, and the fact that he's guarding Duncan means he's always in the lane, so he can alter some of Parker's shots. The game started with Manu and Vladi on each other, and neither of them can handle the other. Vladi can hit any jumper he wants over Manu, and Ginobli can get to the rim at will. Vladi didn't play much after starting, though. Sasha spent most of the game on Manu, and he's precisely the guy who can give Ginobli trouble, including the frustration elbow Manu put in Sasha's grill in the second half. Sasha's defense on Manu may well be the key to the series, since it's clear that Pau can't stop Duncan and Fisher can't stop Parker.
Neither Udoka nor Bowen could keep Bryant down in any sustained fashion. Bowen had a few good possessions against him, but I don't recall Udoka having any, and even Bowen's were really just scattered stops here and there. Duncan did a better job on Pau than vice versa, but he didn't exactly shut him down, which bodes well for the future. Lamar was kind of a non-factor in this game, but it seemed like more of a Lamar thing than a Spurs thing. Oberto, as expected, can't handle him, and he'll get mismatches to exploit if Popovich continues to go small at times.
Despite Pau's inability to really slow down Duncan on more than isolated occasions, I was happy that the Lakers stayed true to their game plan and didn't double off of the three-point shooters. This wasn't universally true, but it was close enough that open threes from the Spurs resulted from defensive breakdowns rather than defensive design. The former are dispiriting but correctable; the latter are the kind of thing that push a series one direction or the other.
Ronny couldn't stop Duncan in the second half any better than you'd think he would, and really was just a guy who would give Pau a breather. He's a dangerous shot-blocker still, but his total defensive game isn't going to stop Timmy. Kurt Thomas only played four minutes, but he can't stop either of the Lakers two bigs: he's too slow for Lamar, and he's too small for Pau. Yes, Thomas is smaller than most bigs, but most bigs don't play the style of game that Pau plays. He's perfectly happy to just shoot over the top of a guy like Thomas even if Kurt has done a good job pushing him away from the rim or into a worse angle than he'd like. Thomas also can't stop the unending lobs Kobe likes to throw to Pau.
Because Popovich was playing Wacky Wednesday with his subs in the first half, I'm not sure we learned anything about his rotation and future matchups. His bigs outside of Duncan played a total of 26 minutes (spread over four guys), so he obviously played small today. Most of that smallness came in the second half after it seems like he didn't like the defense his bigs were giving him in the first half. The thing is that the offense didn't get it done in the second half with the small lineup. But would subbing out Finley for Oberto (or something) help the offense? Of course not. I wouldn't be surprised, then, to see Pops bite the bullet on defending Lamar and go mostly small the rest of the series. It would have worked in this game if the Spurs had hit a few of the open jumpers they had throughout the game (though they got less frequent as the game went on).
On the Laker side, I love how Vladi is looking for his shot, both inside and out, to start each of the last few games. He can shoot over anyone and his cuts are precise. It gives the Lakers a nice lift. I also like that Jordan Farmar appeared to regain some of his confidence in the first half, driving in fearlessly and getting fouled on one 3-on-2, hitting some open jumpers, and not appearing to be bothered by his inability to guard Tony Parker. Fisher had a bad game, but it wasn't a bad game in a terribly meaningful way: he had open shots and he missed them. He'd normally hit three of the shots he missed, and I see no reason, going forward, why he won't hit those shots in the future.