After a pair of blowouts -- one for each team -- the assumption was Friday's rubber match in San Antonio between the Lakers and Spurs would finally give an instructive glimpse into how these teams might fare against each other should they meet in the playoffs. If it did, the Lakers might want to wiggle their way toward Oklahoma City's side of the bracket, because for the second straight game, the Spurs laid a beating on the Lakers.
Unlike Tuesday, it wasn't a parade of turnovers that led to L.A.'s demise. Instead, it was a surgical dissection of the Lakers' defense, with Tony Parker holding the scalpel but sharing cutting duties with virtually all his teammates.
Here are three takeaways:
1. Playing defense against San Antonio is an exercise in team defense, and as a team, the Lakers were shredded.
Certainly things start with perimeter defense and working against the pick-and-roll. As they did Tuesday, the Lakers started the game laying off Parker as he came over screens, whether set by Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter. Sometimes Ramon Sessions went over, sometimes under, but always Parker was able to turn the corner almost at will. The result was a lot of clean midrange looks, or if he probed deep enough toward the bucket, pick-and-pop opportunities for Duncan. As the game went along, the Lakers tried to get a little more aggressive on Parker, but they never stopped the ball or made him alter his path.
The Spurs are masters at running multiple P 'n' R actions on the same trip, and those moments when the Lakers managed to stifle the initial attempt generally created havoc with subsequent actions. In the decisive third quarter, there were multiple instances of L.A. playing about 18 seconds of really good team D, only to break down in the final seconds, whether creating a wide-open cut at the bucket for Boris Diaw or, in perhaps the most frustrating instance, ending up with Sessions guarding Duncan after a late switch (as on Tuesday, the Lakers often found themselves on the wrong end of those) and fouling the future HOFer on a shot clock-beating jumper.
Duncan's line-drive shot fell, as did just about everything San Antonio aimed at the rim, and it was a great microcosm of the evening. It put Sessions on the bench with his fourth foul and showed the total powerlessness of L.A. against the Spurs' offense.
On the night, San Antonio shot 61 percent from the field, after torching the Lakers on Tuesday at a similarly gaudy 60 percent clip. The first game could be chalked up to hot shooting and a little luck. Do it twice, and it's pretty clear San Antonio knows exactly how to attack the Lakers, and it's equally clear the Lakers as yet have absolutely no idea how to stop it.
2. Ramon Sessions would surely prefer to watch any movie ever made rather than film of this game.
I'm talking a "Postman"-"Pluto Nash"-"Cutthroat Island"-"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" quadrupleheader. Even that would be preferable, so miserable was Sessions' Friday in San Antonio. Start with the defense. Sessions simply couldn't figure out how to combat what San Antonio was throwing at him. He struggled to fight over the top of screens and got caught going deep under them, and when he tried to get aggressive and body up Parker, he picked up fouls. He lost other guys, too, getting caught going under screens on Gary Neal.
For Sessions to struggle against Parker isn't really a crime. Everyone does, which is why Parker is a megastar. Plus, the list of things Sessions has brought to the team is meaningful, but defense isn't on it. His defensive metrics don't grade out much differently than those of the much-maligned Derek Fisher, and in some ways, he's a step down. Normally, though, he compensates at the offensive end, where he constitutes a vast improvement over the previous starter. On Friday, he didn't. He was 2-of-8 from the field, with only one trip to the free throw line and, most important, one assist, canceled out by a turnover.
The foul trouble was disruptive, as I assume was the lingering problem with his left shoulder. Still, it was easily the worst game he has played in a Lakers uniform, helping explain why he was a minus-23 in less than 19 minutes before some late garbage time evened the ledger.
3. For what it's worth, Kobe Bryant looked fine.
Bryant shot 7-of-12 from the field for a team-high 18 points, including a decent array of turnaround jumpers, a driving shot into contact along the left side of the lane and a pure jab-jab-jab-rise corner 3-pointer against Kawhi Leonard. He moved well and looked the way Kobe is supposed to look. He wasn't brilliant across the box score in the way he often is -- only two rebounds and one dime in 29:49 of playing time -- but after he missed seven games, it was good to see him apparently healthy on a basketball court.
While it's tough to get a totally clean take on the game given the sheer volume of garbage time it provided, generally speaking, Bryant's presence didn't hurt the overall balance. At halftime, all five starters had between five and seven shots, and in the end, six players finished with between nine and 12 FGAs. Not that it helped much, but the balance was there.
Bold Play of the Game: If the Dodgers ever need another lefty, perhaps they should consider signing Manu Ginobili. As evidenced by this clip, dude can throw a strike. Even fans with the purplest and goldest blood gotta admit, that was amazing.