After a mediocre first two playoff games versus the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers were back on their home turf Friday night. Turning their post season around seemed more difficult as each day passed, however, as L.A. were hit with setback after setback, with injuries piling up and composure suffering because of them.
The Lakers were stretched as thin as possible in the Guard department, with Jodie Meeks, Steve Nash and Steve Blake all joining Kobe Bryant on the injured list for Game 3. These setbacks have forced Coach D’Antoni to scrape from the bottom of the barrel for starters, placing Chris Duhon, Darius Morris and D-League MVP Andrew Goudelock on the floor.
Goudelock, who Kobe Bryant has even dubbed the “Mini Mamba,” had a monster of a season in the lower league after not making the Lakers’ roster at the beginning of the season. As an accurate three point shooter with young legs and a heart to prove himself, he seems the only likely candidate to cool off Tony Parker, who has been a post season machine for the Spurs.
San Antonio, who easily handed an injury and foul stricken Lakers side in Game 2, were finding success from not only expected names such as Parker and Tim Duncan, but also Matt Bonner. Power forward Bonner had given Gasol plenty to worry about, scoring 20 points in the first two games combined, forcing L.A. to work even harder on defense beyond the big names.
The plethora of young guards on the floor Friday needed to find direction and leadership from Howard and Gasol on the floor in order to maximize their production, as working with these two guys in the post can lead to some easy baskets. Dwight Howard avoiding foul trouble, as well, and staying productive on the floor as much as possible will also be a key factor if the Lakers want to grab their first victory of a woeful playoffs.
After L.A.’s first possession of the game resulted in a turnover, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol hit back to back buckets to push their team in the right direction and get the flow going. Scoring only four of their first 12 field goal attempts in the first six minutes, the Lakers allowed the Spurs to walk all over them, giving Tim Duncan the opportunity to find a comfort level shooting on the floor which could be lethal. After Duncan hit three consecutive two-point jumpers, the Lakers shooting issues only continued, with Metta World Peace clearly not finding his rhythm from any area of the floor.
San Antonio pushed themselves to a 11-2 run, easily influenced by a 1-6 shooting start from the guards and Dwight Howard literally “grabbing” a pair of fouls. Earl Clark had a positive influence as soon as he stepped on the floor, scoring both of his first two shot attempts and defensively taking Duncan out of the game the next few plays. The highlight of the quarter, unfortunately for the Lakers statistics or offensive wise, was when Andrew Goudelock heard faint MVP chants from the crowd at the free throw line.
Kawhi Leonard even began finding success for the Spurs offensively on the floor, and the Lakers lost complete control of the first quarter, checking up on the scoreboard waiting for the first 12 minutes to finally end. With San Antonio shooting over 60 percent from the floor in comparison to the Lakers’ 34 percent, L.A. were lucky to only be down 12 at the end of the quarter, 18-30.
Antawn Jamison made a positive impression with his first shot of the second quarter, athletically throwing up a layup. Corey Joseph had two answers for the Lakers’ efforts, however, scoring four points in the first 90 seconds and keeping San Antonio’s lead alive. Tony Parker began getting comfortable offensively, to the Lakers demise, hitting back to back jumpers with Duncan assisting. This easily allowed the Spurs to grab the largest lead of the game at 18, as L.A. continued to shoot poorly, dropping to below 37 percent. While Parker and his side continued to throw up baskets, easily contain any speck of offense the Lakers tried to construct, and only inch farther and farther away with the lead, Lakers’ fans began to get uninspired, and it was noticeable in the atmosphere of Staples Center.
After the Lakers 20 second time out came to a close, however, Goudelock officially arrived. With Gasol feeding both attempts, the young guard nailed back to back three-pointers from around 24 feet, quickly turning the tables and forcing San Antonio to take a time out. Another signature floater from the Mini Mamba put the Lakers right back where the quarter started, behind twelve, just as the two minute mark passed.
Five straight possessions, back and forth from both teams, resulted in baskets, making this match up look competitive for the first time since the first minute of the game. Duncan and Bonner put away points for their side, while Howard put away another two points just before Goudelock was right back at it, scoring again. In just over two minutes, Goudelock managed to put away 14 points – the most out of any individual at that point.
Dwight Howard ended an unimpressive first half with a bang, blocking Tiago Splitter’s shot and drawing a foul on the other end of the floor, scoring both of his free throws. This small surge from L.A. cut the lead down at the half, as the Lakers went into the locker room trailing San Antonio 44-55.
Only four turnovers in the first half did noting to keep San Antonio from taking a dominant lead, but the Lakers need to keep this statistic down in order to have any chance of surging and regaining an improbable lead. With Goudelock leading the way points wise, the rest of the roster needs to follow suit, especially from Pau Gasol, who only had six points in the first half. Controlling Howard’s foul count and containing the offensive output from both Duncan and Parker are also necessities moving forward in order to seal a victory.
If the Lakers’ halftime talk had anything to do with defense, it was pretty uninspiring, as the Spurs were able to start off the half 6-7, regaining that massive 16 point lead. An almost perfect Tim Duncan, who had scored 10 of 11 attempts in the game four minutes into the third quarter, continued to be problematic to almost every aspect of the Lakers’ game. He even started stepping inside to keep Howard away from the basket, moving over from Gasol after realizing the Spaniard wasn’t going to be a real scoring threat.
After being called for an offensive foul, Dwight Howard nabbed himself a technical to top it off, forcing him to beeline it toward the bench. The result was a Lakers’ rotation no one ever could have imagined, with Goudelock, Morris, Clark, Jamison and Jordan Hill all making their way to the floor, all while Manu Ginobili, Duncan and Parker were kept on by the Spurs.
Leonard became the third player from San Antonio to reach double figures in points with a 8-foot basket, and things only got worse for L.A., who found themselves down a whopping 22 points with just over two minutes remaining. Turnovers started piling up for Los Angeles, and while the Lakers were staggering to even get open for shot attempts, let alone scoring, San Antonio excelled in tremendous ball movement. Ginobili dished out some impressive passes down the stretch, and despite tallying up the team total to 12 turnovers, the lead only grew.
Although the Lakers improved tremendously on offense, with the field goal percentage jumping to just about 43 percent, no defensive effort was made, allowing the Spurs to personally jump to over 60 percent. The Lakers entered the final quarter of the game still trailing heavily, 63-85.
The fouls San Antonio proceeded to commit on Dwight Howard continued to get more aggressive and exaggerated as the fourth quarter came around, with up to four players all grabbing him at once to deny the big man from putting up a shot. Although they already had a decent sized lead under their belt, defense only seemed to pick up by the Spurs, with Howard and Gasol always getting at least three defenders, sometimes more, in their faces on each possession.
L.A. couldn’t find any answers as time struck by, with the Spurs taking a 25 point lead as they continuously beat the Lakers down the floor play after play. Tim Duncan finally got to take a seat with just over five minutes remaining, ending with 26 points and 9 rebounds, a prime example of Lakers’ defense not being a real threat. Pau Gasol scored a bucket with five minutes remaining to give himself a triple-double, with 11 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds. No performance, however, could save the Lakers from their inevitable demise, with Gasol and Howard getting taken out of the game just after.
A no production night from Metta World Peace, who failed to both score and grab any rebounds, only added to the Lakers’ woes, and a young and inexperienced team couldn’t make up for the guard drought at Staples Center. Despite Morris and Goudelock both scoring over 20 points, the Lakers fell to three games behind a surging San Antonio team in their worst home loss in playoff history, losing 120-89. The Lakers host game four Sunday at 4 p.m. PST, hoping to grab a victory and avoid getting swept despite toting a beat up, exhausted and thin roster.