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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spurs Decide the Outcome In Seven Minutes (4.17.12)

Well that got ugly really quickly.

With 6:43 left in the second quarter and the score tied 37-37, the San Antonio Spurs went on a 26-10 run that absolutely decided the outcome of the game. The Lakers never recovered and they ended up losing 112-91. That momentum going into halftime catapulted the Spurs to victory as the Lakers struggled to cut into the lead throughout the rest of the game. Although the Lakers kept playing hard, and had some mini spurts, they just couldn't slow down Tony Parker. Parker's night was sublime. He put his full offensive arsenal on display. He shot 14-20 for 29 points, and he dished out 13 assists. Parker was hot. He got to the rim, he pulled off ridiculous crossovers that left defenders frozen, he hit pull up jumpers, he hit jumpers off of curls, he delivered perfect passes off of pick and rolls, he drove and kicked out to open shooters, he pushed the ball up in transition, essentially, he showed why he is an MVP candidate this season. Parker also delivered the knock out punch during that deciding run, scoring 8 points and dishing out 3 assists that led to another 7 points. Contributing to 15 of the 26 points during that run, Parker pushed the tempo and got the Spurs easy buckets. It didn't help that the Lakers had 5 unforced turnovers in 6 possessions during that stretch.

Following his historic 30 rebound game just a week ago, Andrew Bynum seemed poised for another huge night. Bynum shot 6-9 for 13 points in the first quarter. However, Bynum only pulled down 1 rebound in that opening quarter. Bynum's offensive activity was nice, but his impact in the paint was sorely missed. The Spurs shot 59.5% for the game, and a number of those shots were right at the rim. After absolutely dominating the paint in their previous meeting, Andrew Bynum disappeared. After a hot opening quarter, Bynum only finished 8-16 for 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Look at that final line; Bynum only shot 2-7 for the rest of the game. He also had no blocks or steals. His 2 official turnovers should also be upped to about 5.

Bynum struggled to dominate the paint. After seeing Bynum abuse Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair in the previous matchup, Gregg Popovich made a big adjustment. Coach Pop sat the undersized Blair for the entire game and gave his minutes to the 6'11" Tiago Splitter and the 6'9" Boris Diaw. These bigs helped to neutralize the impact of Bynum and Gasol. It didn't help that Bynum really struggled to maintain his position on the block. Tim Duncan did a magnificent job of slipping through Bynum and pushing him out past his comfort level on the block. On numerous occasions, Bynum failed to seal the defender on his back. Tim Duncan continually slipped through Bynum and would tip the entry pass for a steal. During that ugly second quarter stretch, Bynum was (unofficially) responsible for 2 of those 5 turnovers. Following a stretch that included Matt Barnes losing the ball out of bounds, Steve Blake throwing a bad pass that was stolen, Matt Barnes missing a 3 pointer, and Matt Barnes overthrowing an open Bynum on a lob, the score swelled to 53-41. The Lakers desperately needed a bucket to slow down the Spurs. So the Lakers tried to set up their focal point, a role usually reserved for Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol had his back to the basket at the far mid block. As he turned baseline he noticed Bynum flashing right under the rim. Pau threw a pass to Bynum, but Bynum failed to seal the 6'6" Gerald Green, allowing Green to cut in front of him and steal the ball. The pass may have been errant, but if Bynum had moved toward the ball and sealed his man, he would have had an easy dunk. The Spurs raced down and got an easy layup in transition. The Lakers then came down and tried to hit Bynum on a high low set. Pau caught a pass at the top of the key. He saw Bynum flash in the lane just outside the parabola in the lane. As Pau threw the entry, Bynum continued to slide across the lane and he faded back toward the rim as if he was a receiver trying to catch a curl and head upfield as soon as the ball got there. Tim Duncan easily stepped in front of Drew and stole the ball. The Spurs immediately came down and Duncan hit an open jumper off of a pick and pop with Parker. Bynum's failure to steady the ship during this stretch speaks volumes about the impact of Kobe Bryant. Kobe would not have allowed 5 turnovers in 6 possessions. Kobe would have at least gotten up a shot. Bynum's ascent to stardom still has a ways to go. His potential is massive, but he still has some learning to do in order to become a better leader.

Even with Bynum's struggles, the game may have been much different if Metta World Peace hadn't gotten in foul trouble. The teams were relatively even until Metta picked up his 3rd foul with just over 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. The Spurs then went on their run and blew the game open. Metta's veteran leadership was commented on by Mike Brown in the post game conference. Brown stated, "Metta picked up his third foul, and when Metta was out, I thought that we really lost control of the tempo of the game. I thought the tempo was in their favor. They sped us up and we did not look like we had, nor tried, to get control of the tempo. We'd come down and take a one pass 3, or a no pass 3. We just kind of got out of character a little bit of the way that we had been playing lately. It kind of reminded me of when we played Phoenix at Phoenix." As Brown noted, Metta's veteran leadership was a source of stability for the Lakers. Once Metta had to be subbed out, the Spurs turned every stop into a transition opportunity and they absolutely burned the Lakers. The reference to the Phoenix game is also notable. In that game, Michael Redd and Shannon Brown took turns killing the Lakers. In this game Parker lit up the Lakers in only 31 minutes of play.

Mike Brown also addressed the difficulty the Lakers had with their post entries. Brown stated, "They were three quartering the post, and we tried to feed the ball from the top of the floor. If somebody is in a three quarter, or a partial front, in the post, you know, we told our guys, 'Hey you gotta bring the ball at least free throw line extended, and not only that, we gotta get the strong corner filled. If you fill the corner and you got a guy on the wing, then throw that ball to the corner, now the defense has to go behind the post. He can't stay in the three quarter on the high side because that is just a lob to the rim for a layup.' We talked about it. We kept not filling the strong corner and we kept trying to feed the ball from too high out on the wing. They just tapped the ball away and would go get it." The inability of the Lakers to perform such a simple task as filling the strong side is disappointing. As Brown stated, if both the corner and wing is occupied, it is impossible for the defense to front the post because once the ball is swung, a lob to the rim is almost guaranteed. However, Brown surprisingly did not address Bynum's inability to seal his man. Although the Lakers failed to execute perfect passing angles, they were able to get decent entries into Bynum. Bynum failed to reward his teammates' trust in him by continually allowing his man to slide around him and steal the ball. Disappointed with the spacing and execution, it seems that Brown did not want to pile on Bynum. This is understandable and I'm sure these problems will be solved once they watch the game tape.

Speaking of video reviews, watch this interview Bynum gave after the game. Clearly agitated, Bynum looked like he just wanted to leave, and that's exactly what he did. Bynum cut the interview short and stated, "Ya let's go man," followed by a mumble that sounded like, "I don't need that." Bynum seemed pissed off and ready for another round. He will get his chance for revenge on Friday, stating, "They beat us like we stole something, so we gotta come see them next time we play." Hopefully Bynum's motivation lends itself to another dominant performance.

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