No Manu, No Win

Forget the non-foul call on Brent Barry in the final seconds – seriously, when was the last time you saw that call made in that situation – the Spurs role players and spark plug lost this game. That they stayed as close as two points midway into the fourth quarter amazed me way more than the fact they lost. Yes, Manu Ginobili did actually play in this game before the end of the fourth quarter. If you missed him, you weren’t alone. Whether hampered by injury, or having a bad night, the Argentine was a non-factor, scoring two points the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, finishing with only seven points.

The usual suspects, Parker and Duncan, played solid games. Barry had the playoff game of his life, almost single-handedly accounting for the team’s 3-pt production. As for the rest of the team – in a word, pathetic. How many games do you win when two starters, Michael FInley and Fabricio Oberto in this case, fail to score. Robert Horry officially traded in the Big Shot Bob moniker for No Shot Robby. Poppovich was forced to stick with his top three and the hot Barry almost the entire second half to erase the Lakers lead. By the fourth quarter, the Spurs looked winded and old.

Unlike the Spurs role players, LA received solid contributions across the board. Lamar Odom scored 8 of his 16 in the fourth, and grabbed nine rebounds in the game. Down the stretch, it appeared that Odom could score at will, or at least get to the basket whenever he wanted, no matter who was guarding him. That’s the type of scary talent he has. It’s the inconsistency, like his Game 3 performance that prevents him from becoming a star. Derek Fischer recovered from a poor outing to play a solid game, combining with backup
point guard Jordan Farmer for only two turnovers in 47 combined minutes. Not flashy, just solid, fundamental playoff basketball.

Almost unnoticed, Pau Gasol played decent defense on Duncan for the first time all series. The Big Fundamental shot 10-26 from the field, bothered by Gasol’s length and extra aggression. He still dumped in 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but was not much of a factor late in the game, and had to work much harder for those points than the first three games. On offense, Gasol only took seven shots to score his ten points. The unselfish big man finally dug his hells in, grinding inside with Duncan, fighting for position and forcing Duncan to commit fouls. Then adeptly, when his shot was not there, he setup his teammates. Not many 7-footers notch 6 assists.

All this without mentioning Kobe. You assume those 28 points from Bryant almost every night. Everyone is investigating the zero foul shots – first postseason game since 2004 without a free throw. It’s no surprise, he didn’t attack the hole often, mostly settling for jumpers. His big stat was ten rebounds. LA killed San Antonio on the glass, especially the offensive boards. Poppovich said as much in his timeout huddle that aired on TNT. Allowing second chance opportunities build leads and kill comebacks. Each time the Spurs made a defensive stop and the Lakers grabbed an offensive board, more time off the clock, more energy spent on defense, less momentum. A vicious cycle. Detroit suffered the same fate in Game 3 against Boston and never came back. San Antonio tied the game five times, but never took the lead.

Up against the wall, the defending champs need to pull a rabbit out of their hat to win this series. Thursday night is shaping into the next step for this Lakers team. The Spurs are never dead until they lose four times, but the casket is in the ground.

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