This postseason has most definitely not been what we all expected when this team began their post-All Star break turnaround. The injury bug has bitten the Lakers all year, but the list of hurt players is piling up like never before at the worst possible time. Already missing four guards—Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Steve Nash, and Jodie Meeks— in Friday’s humiliating loss to San Antonio, starting forward Metta World Peace now joins the list.
After one of the most embarrassing losses in Laker postseason history in which the Lakers fell to the Spurs by a score of 120-89, Mike D’Antoni would once again be forced to trot out one of the worst lineups he has fielded all season—forced to start Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock against a champion-level Spurs team.
On Sunday night in Staples Center, the Lakers had one chance to regain some level of respect and confidence after already trailing by the insurmountable three games to none deficit. Winning, however, would be harder than ever as the best-coached team in the league hardly missed a beat on Friday as they pounded the Lakers on both ends of the floor. Veteran players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili practically ran circles around the Lakers while Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol simply could not do everything. Already twelve point underdogs in their own building, a Laker victory on Sunday avoiding the sweep would be a shock to the basketball world.
The Lakers started the game right where they left off on Friday night, with a turnover on offense before allowing a swished three pointer by Danny Green of the Spurs. The first basket for L.A. came on a jumper from Darius Morris, but the Spurs promptly responded. The Spurs jumped out to a seven to two lead and the Lakers had already racked up two turnovers. The one bright spot for the Lakers in game three—Andrew Goudelock—made his first floater of the game but the Spurs once again had an answer. The Lakers began to pick up the pace on defense, forcing back to back turnovers but failed to cash in offensively. L.A. failed continuously to run the ball through the post and continued to rack up more turnovers than they did points.
Spurs fans experienced a scary moment when Tony Parker and Dwight Howard went down hard and their point guard was slow to get up, but either way the Lakers had already built a nine point deficit as Danny Green had singlehandedly outscored them. An encouraging sign for the Lakers was Pau Gasol’s first basket and an ensuing missed shot from the Spurs. A three point play from Howard set up by Darius Morris then cut the Spurs lead to four. The two teams then began trading baskets but what the Lakers truly needed was stops. The first substitution was made for L.A. when Jamison came in for Pau with just under five minutes to go. The Lakers then immediately threw the ball away for their fifth turnover. The Spurs, however, also began to struggle and the Lakers started making successful entry passes to Howard but kept turning the ball over.
After an ugly first quarter of offense for the Lakers, they trailed the Spurs 26-20.
As the offense was once again terrible in the first quarter, the Lakers also needed to pick up the pace on defense moving forward. As the experienced stars of San Antonio repeatedly exposed the naïve nature of the Laker backcourt, L.A. had already committed seven turnovers. The Spurs were in complete control of the game on the scoreboard and tempo-wise, something the Lakers needed to change. The Spurs began the second quarter with a floater, pushing their lead to eight while the Lakers once again turned it over. The first Laker basket came on a layup from Pau but Manu Ginobili had answers. Another swish from Pau did have the Lakers back within six as the Lakers began to get stops. They could not respond with a run of their own, though, and a three from Gary Neal pushed the lead back to eleven.
With the Spurs owning their largest lead of the game, the Lakers continued to brick all of their outside shots. With the Spurs resting their stars, the Lakers simply could not get offense when they most needed it. Another three from Gary Neal pushed the lead to fourteen as the Spurs began to pull away. The first three of the night came on a deep toss from Chris Duhon to cut the San Antonio lead down to eleven. Duncan and Parker promptly returned and answered for the Spurs while Howard returned for the Lakers. The Spurs continued to carve up the Laker defense and pushed the lead to eighteen as the Lakers continued to turn the basketball over.
The game was practically out of reach by halftime as the Lakers trailed 52-34 and the juxtaposition between a well-coached, experienced, and talented team and the hodge-podge group of inexperienced Lakers with no chemistry was more glaring than ever.
As the second half began, the Lakers had a tough task: somehow outscore the most efficient and experienced team in the playoffs by eighteen points with a terrible lineup that matches every field goal with a turnover. After a shocking number of first half mistakes on offense and lackadaisical defense, there was no sign of the comeback they would need for L.A. The Spurs missed their first shot of the quarter but the Lakers also remained cold from outside. After a scoreless first two minutes of the half, the first points came on a wide open three pointer from Kawhi Leonard. Lakers center Dwight Howard picked up his second technical foul, as a disappointing season for number twelve looked like it would come to a disappointing close.
Even when the Lakers did make their shots, the Spurs ran their perfectly executed offense and continued to run over the Lakers while the purple and gold got their loudest ovation when Kobe Bryant entered from the locker room. Bryant’s entry got the crowd involved and a three from Jamison cut the Spurs lead to sixteen. Just when the Lakers looked like they were turning a corner, Tony Parker threw up a beautiful floater and drew a technical foul on Darius Morris. The Spurs had quickly shot their lead back up to nineteen. The Spurs had practically gone on cruise control by the end of the third quarter as the Lakers failed to pull close than nineteen. Once again the only Lakers with a constant offensive flow other than Pau Gasol was Andrew Goudelock. Several straight buckets from Goudelock cut the lead to sixteen before a sweet jumper from Corey Joseph.
By the end of the third quarter, the Spurs remained in complete control and led 78-58.
By the time the final quarter of the game began, it was quite clear who the better team was. The Spurs had consistently beaten the Lakers on both ends and were just twelve minutes of basketball away from sweeping them out of the playoffs. For the Lakers, any run would simply be too little too late as quite possible the most disappointing season in franchise history would come to a close. To start the fourth quarter the Spurs answered a Laker bucket with a beautiful reverse layup from Dejuan Blair. No starters were playing for the Spurs but they still pushed their lead up to 25 with ten minutes remaining.
The Lakers began to have a spark of their own even with Duncan and Ginobili playing as they stitched together an 8-0 run and cut the deficit to seventeen. The Spurs, though answered the Lakers bucket for bucket for several straight possessions. By the time less than six minutes remained in the quarter, the Lakers had made little progress in chipping away at the deficit and the season was inching to a close. Big questions about roster changes loomed ahead for L.A. as well as decisions on what to do with Kobe and Dwight.
By the end of this grueling and exhausting game and season, the Spurs completed the sweep against the Lakers with one final victory in Staples.