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May 30, 2008

Bryant, LA Lakers get Finals Ticket

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Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The defending champion San Antonio Spurs are no more. The Spurs have a ticket to San Antonio but the LA Lakers won in 5 games and have a Finals Ticket to Boston or a Finals Ticket for Detroit, whoever wins that Eastern Conference Finals matchup.

Another disappointing effort from the Spurs, yet Game 5 showed how close the Spurs were to taking a few of these games and making it a different series. The SA Spurs had a 17 point lead in the first half, not the first time they lost a huge lead to the Lakers this series. Some of the role players for LA made timely shots like Farmar and Odom, but the MVP led the way in this game.

NBA MVP Kobe Bryant
had 39 points on 16 / 30 shooting, doing it the hard way with only 5 points from free throws. Kobe's closing ability in the 4th quarter was the difference as he never let the Spurs get ahead. Bruce Bowen can get up in his grill, but Kobe has the athletic ability to get separation to create a shot and has the vertical and finesse to finish.

It was a heroic effort from Tim Duncan who has been laying it all on the line for the Spurs, but just has not received enough help. Duncan managed 19 points 15 rebounds 10 assists but on only 7 / 19 shooting. The length of Gasol and Odom bothered Duncan's ability to finish inside, despite the fact that he could out-muscle them at will.

Another game where Manu Ginobili just did not show up. It is no surprise that the one game Manu went off with 30 points, the Spurs win. Because that's how it went through the previous Spurs Finals runs. Whether it is that ankle injury, or whether Ginobili just did not shoot / finish like he has in the past, the Spurs have to be nervous heading into the future.

Sure Duncan will age well as a big, and Parker is still reliable. But the Spurs need scoring options badly with Manu looking inconsistent at best, and is probably suited to a role where the team is less reliant on him to be successful (maybe as a true bench player). The Spurs though do not have a lot of flexibility to make changes until 2010, but a lot of high profile free agents will be available then including LeBron James.

San Antonio Spurs fans and haters alike, be sure to remember that besides the Lakers title run, the Spurs have won every odd year title since 1999.

May 26, 2008

Spurs pull away from Lakers in Game 3

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After a dismal performance in Game 2 in Los Angeles, the San Antonio Spurs turn the tables on the Lakers and pull away in the 2nd half for a 19 point victory. The big three in San Antonio all were performing at a top level, scoring 20+ points on better than 50% shooting.

If there was a good thing about the Game 2 blowout by Los Angeles, it was that the starters for San Antonio namely Manu Ginobili received extended rest. It showed in how he attacked the basket coming out in Game 2, and how fresh his shot looked in knocking down 5 of 7 three pointers. Best of all, despite a hobbled ankle, Manu made it to the line 7 times knocking down all 7 shots. One play in particular that comes to mind from Game 3 is when he drove through 4 Laker defenders including 2 at the basket (Kobe being one of them) and still finished.

Meanwhile Kobe Bryant made 0 free throws in 1 attempts, which is not going to get it done for Los Angeles on the road. Sure Kobe scored 30 points on better than 50% shooting plus 4 threes, but he needs to attack the basket more to create more opportunities for the role players in LA as nobody besides Jordan Farmar provided decent help for Bryant in Game 3.

Lamar Odom followed up his brilliant Game 2 will a dismal effort in San Antonio. Odom went 2 / 11 from the field, including 3 / 8 from the free throw line. Gasol shot poorly also at a 7 / 18 clip and still cannot handle Duncan's physicality inside as evidenced by being quadrupled in rebounds by Duncan. Nary a blocked shot for the Lakers on this night after a decent amount in Los Angeles, another sign of the questionable Laker interior defense. Tim Duncan continues to dominate in the middle of this series with a 20-20 game to go along with 5 assists and a solid 6 out of 9 free throws made for the Big Fundamental.

Heading into Game 4 on Tuesday night look for more of the same for the Spurs. While the loss in Game 2 was terrible, Duncan has shown even in LA that the Lakers have no presence in the interior that compares to him. They will continue to ride him and have him create on offense. Most importantly the Spurs are hoping that the Game 3 Manu Ginobili put up will be the norm now that he has had a little bit of rest; but the rest of the series is played every other day so he will need to keep up. The Spurs are so reliant on him to be an efficient scorer and creator on offense because besides Duncan and Parker, the scoring options are limited and inconsistent at best.

May 24, 2008

Lakers blow Spurs out for 2-0 lead

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Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The LA Lakers did not need a furious comeback to win this game. Instead Kobe Bryant and the rest of the gang got to joke around at the end of a 30 point blowout at home against the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. How many huge road losses can these prideful old warriors take?

Just glance at some of the numbers and you can see the Spurs struggled beyond belief. They had two players score over double digits - Tim Duncan with 12 and Tony Parker leading the team with 13 points! SA finished with 71 points on .345% shooting including 6 / 23 from threes and a meager 5 / 10 free throws. Unbelievable numbers for these Spurs, despite how offensively-challenged they can look at times.

The story of the game was Lamar Odom coming out of his mini slump to perform efficiently as Kobe Bryant's number 1 sidekick in this bout. Odom dominated with his length, snatching 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to go with 20 points on 7 / 10 shooting, 6 / 8 from the line. When Lamar Odom is not shooting on the perimeter but instead using his athleticism to drive and create shots for himself and teammates, he is one of the most versatile players in the game. It was Odom and Bryant who put the Spurs away for good to start the third quarter.

Also not to be overlooked is the play of a few Laker guards who turned their play around. Derek Fisher recovered from an awful 1 / 9 night in Game 1 to record 11 points on 4 / 5 shooting and 3 / 3 free throws. Matching him was Jordan Farmar, who had been struggling throughout the entire playoffs. Throughout the year he was putting in almost 10 points a game and 1.5 threes a game in just 20 minutes. His efficient play was missed in the playoffs but he has a solid game with 14 points on 5 / 7 shooting including 2 threes. Granted he played some of that during garbage time but was playing when it was close too (he had an outstanding dunk on Ime Udoka).

Then there is that Kobe Bryant guy who won the MVP of the NBA. He shot just 1 / 5 from three point land but was 9 / 12 with the rest of his shots from the floor for 22 points 5 rebounds 5 assists. This game hardly required Kobe's best effort as evidenced by his 1 free throw attempt but his outing was efficient nonetheless.

Obviously these next two games in San Antonio are of prime importance for this year but are telling for the future as well. If the Lakers trounce the Spurs in SA like they did in this game, it could effectively be the passing of the torch in the Western Conference. Ironic in that the Lakers had sort of passed the torch to San Antonio after the Shaq / Kobe threepeat days in the mid-2000's.

Remember, the Lakers are doing this without youngster Andrew Bynum, and their robbery of Memphis for Pau Gasol has put them in an even more favorable position heading into the next 4-5 years of NBA basketball.

That said don't expect those Spurs to roll over and die, no matter the deficit. Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals is Sunday Night at 830 Eastern Time.

May 22, 2008

LA Lakers comeback, strike Spurs first

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Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

For the 1st half and the first part of the 3rd quarter, the San Antonio Spurs looked to have no hang over from their night that they had to spend in the New Orleans airport. But it just came out in the latter parts of the 2nd half.

Tim Duncan was pushing Pau Gasol around all night long to the tune of 30 points 18 rebounds 4 blocks 2 steals. Timmy came to play and Tony Parker was at least average, but the rest of the Spurs supporting cast really let them down by missing shots. Michael Finley was 0-5 shooting threes and Manu Ginobili really struggled and looked too tired to create. But he was also harassed going to the basket by the long arms of Gasol and Odom. Ginobili relies on drawing contact as he is getting to the rim but in this game it just ended up in weak shot attempts instead of fouls. Part of this was Manu's fault as he looked fatigued most of the game, but this brings us to another point. It would be an understatement to say that the Lakers got away with a mugging but on the road (especially Los Angeles in the playoffs) the Spurs certainly have come to accept it goes with the territory. If you saw the 1999-00 Conference Finals against the Blazers or 02-03 against the Kings then you know.

After a longer layoff, the Los Angeles Lakers looked a little lost on offense in the 1st half, and their defense was soft. Kobe Bryant scored 2 points in the 1st half. But then the middle of the 3rd quarter came with the Spurs up by 20, and the Lakers began a comeback that the Spurs were never able to quell. And it was led mostly by the MVP Kobe Bryant who had 25 points in the 2nd half. When he was not scoring he was setting up Gasol for feeds.

Despite the modest numbers, the Lakers were had a +25 advantage with Sasha Vujacic in the game. He played tight defense and made a few nice three pointers, and got to the line. His quality bench play made up for a 1 / 9 night shooting from Derek Fisher. Lamar Odom also struggled with 8 points on 3 / 12 shooting, not so much with jumpers like Fisher but Odom as unable to finish in the paint.

If the rest of the series is as classic as this game 1 comeback, we are in for another wild ride in the West. Considering the circumstances the Lakers are lucky to pull away with that one, and the Spurs are sure to want revenge for that bitter loss.