The San Antonio Spurs are usually known for their passing game and offensive fluidity, but in the postseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, it was about their defense, forcing the Lakers to try and win the game from the outside, and a resurgent and hopefully long-term healthy Manu Ginobili with some special moments of basketball that led them to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Ginobili played only 19 minutes, but the Spurs outscored the Lakers by 19 points during his time on the floor. He finished with 18 points and added three assists playing, or at least looking, injury-free, giving him the ability to play the way he loves too, which is quite of unpredictable to his team and the opposition.
But that was what the Spurs needed as they tried to take the game away from Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, who dominated early on, forcing the Spurs to try and shoot from outside the paint. The tactic worked both ways, only the Spurs have a better team, making up for their 37.6% from the field, as Tony Parker, also with 18 points, was only 8-21, but still managed to enjoy yet another trip against the non-defense that Steve Nash brings to the floor.
Tim Duncan was the first player to get over the twin-tower hump, scoring two shots over Pau Gasol, and there wasn’t any doubt about the better or more dominant team for the rest of the way, as the Spurs won 91-79. The Lakers couldn’t get consistency in the paint, despite the double doubles from both Gasol (16-16) and Howard (20-15). Tim Duncan had one of his own with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but it was the work he did on defense, along with Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair that force the Lakers to shoot from the outside, making only 20% of their three point attempts, having guys like Metta World Peace try to win them the game instead of their best players.
This might be the difference this season for the Spurs than in previous years – they can win games through defense. A healthy Tim Duncan has the excellent Leonard (8 points) and Danny Green (6 points) to rely on, and it takes some pressure off of Tony Parker to be excellent and perfect in his play-making decisions each night. Parker has the luxury of being bad, knowing there’s enough quality to fall back on.
The Lakers had some of the same problems they’ve been having all season, turning the ball over 18 times compared with only 9 by the Spurs. Even if they can match the Spurs with offensive power through Howard and Gasol by upping the aggression and inside basketball determination, their lack of play-makers defensively on the perimeter might cost them games that they’re actually shooting well in.
For San Antonio, this wasn’t the best of starts, but some say it’s better to start off bad and still win, knowing they can only improve from here, while their inferior rivals try to figure out if they even have a shot in making this a fair series.