On Sunday night, the Lakers would host the formidable Spurs, still without point guard Steve Nash and in their first game without superstar Kobe Bryant. Coming off of a win Friday that practically defines the term Pyrrhic victory, L.A. will be without Kobe for the remainder of the season.
Bryant, who led the Lakers in many categories and has been practically willing his team into the playoffs, suffered a torn Achilles against the Warriors and will be greatly missed in the playoff push.
Meanwhile, the Lakers still nurse a one game lead over the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot, but must win because the Jazz have the tiebreak. With Bryant gone, all eyes shift to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, fellow stars who absolutely need to step up.
The Lakers started with Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers began the game with a clear focus on pounding the ball inside but started the game with six missed field goals and an offensive foul for Dwight. For the Lakers to win, the guards would need to step up with outside shooting. L.A. scored its first points with Dwight on the inside, but the Spurs continued to promptly answer with their efficient offense. After a slow start, Dwight and Pau began to exert their will on the game with a posterizing slam for Howard right over Duncan. For the Spurs, however, Tiago Splitter was left open for several inside scores of his own. Some outside shots from Steve Blake gave the Lakers an early 12-6 lead.
The early lead built by L.A. immediately evaporated with six straight points from the Spurs. Though everything was going well inside early, the Lakers missed several outside shots and allowed the Spurs to take the lead. With the absence of Bryant, Darius Morris entered the game for the first time in several months. Towards the close of the quarter, the two teams traded baskets after slow offensive starts. The only consistent source of offense early continued to be Dwight Howard while the Spurs ran the offense through Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Two of the league’s strongest offensive teams struggled in the first, as solid defense was showcased on both sides.
At the end of the first period, the Lakers trailed the Spurs 23-22 in a grind-it-out game with a playoff berth on the line.
The Lakers, still adjusting after the loss of Kobe, shot just 38% from the field in the first quarter but still only trailed by one. The key to victory would be a continued defensive effort coupled with some outside shots finally falling. D’Antoni began the quarter with Pau on the floor while Dwight got a rest. The Lakers began with several consecutive turnovers while the Spurs continued to take advantage of defensive breakdowns. Several bad passes in a row triggered the reentry of Steve Blake into the lineup for Chris Duhon as the Lakers had already racked up nine turnovers.
With Howard on the bench, Pau had several good looks but failed to convert any of them. Antawn Jamison also struggled from the field as the Laker field goal percentage dipped to 32 percent. The Spurs soon had their largest lead of the game at six before Steve Blake cut it in half with the first three point field goal of the game for L.A. Blake promptly hit another outside jumper cutting the lead to one, as Steve Blake appeared to be an injection of energy for the Lakers. The energy of Blake seemed to be contagious, as Jodie Meeks also hit his first outside jumper of the game. With seven minutes left in the second quarter, Dwight reentered the game to play with Pau, who struggled early. Another three from Steve Blake tied the game while two more threes from Blake several possessions later gave L.A. their first lead of the quarter. The Spurs, however, weren’t going anywhere and effortlessly retied the game.
At halftime, the Laker defense kept them in the game as they and the Spurs were tied at 43.
The Lakers got just what they needed to start the third quarter—a quick offensive start. By pounding the ball inside, the Lakers scored with Dwight at first before a thunderous dunk from Metta World Peace. The Lakers continued to stifle the Spurs on defense, forcing several turnovers but still struggled with outside shooting. Pau Gasol, in particular, struggled mightily from the field as the Spurs soon had the lead down to two. Steve Blake answered, however, as the two teams continued to trade baskets. L.A. continued to have problems with turnovers as the Spurs soon tied the game as the purple and gold struggled on offense.
After the Spurs had regained the lead still early in the quarter, the Lakers continued to run the offense through Dwight, who saw double teams every time. The Spurs continued to force the ball out of Dwight’s hands and the off-ball movement of other players dictated the success of the possession. Neither team successfully built any momentum in this see-saw game that saw many clanks on the offensive end. So far a poor shooting night from Pau had been matched by a similar performance from Tony Parker. The Lakers, despite playing with energy, were constantly disorganized on offense. Late in the quarter with a two point lead, Greg Popovich implemented the policy of hack-a-Dwight, resulting in four makes out of ten attempts.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers and the Spurs remained knotted up at 61.
With both teams struggling offensively and no Kobe, the Lakers would need to find someone else to step up offensively while clamping down on defense. The quarter began with a bucket from World Peace and a three from Jamiso before another defensive breakdown. Following a miss from Parker, Jamison nailed another three to go up by five. A floater from Matt Bonner and a three from Green once again tied the game. The Lakers, however, answered with another three from Antawn that energized the team and the crowd.
With just under seven minutes to go, Pau Gasol gave the Lakers a six point lead, tying their largest of the game. After a dunk from Duncan, Jodie Meeks began to come alive and made another three to put the Lakers up seven. After another stellar defensive possession, a fastbreak layup from World Peace put L.A. up nine in one of the scrappiest games of the season. A tip shot with Dwight put them up by eleven before a prompt answer from Danny Green. A strong dunk from Duncan brought the Spurs back within seven with still three minutes to go as the Lakers began to miss. Another layup from Duncan cut the lead to five as the Lakers were reeling. With just over two minutes to go, Dwight served as the closeout player with a beautiful shot and a couple of free throws. Tim Duncan, however, would not let the Spurs go away, with a stellar three point play. Several three point misses from the Spurs and a free throw from Blake sealed the deal for L.A.
With a stellar defensive performance, the Lakers won 91-86.