Since Bryant’s arrival in Los Angeles, rarely has the Lakers late game execution been questioned, with the Black Mamba often hitting all the critical shots. Without him, the Lakers showed the struggle that will likely be an ongoing theme late against the Spurs, highlighted by Jodie Meeks game-sealing turnover with the Lakers down just four points and 20 seconds on the clock. Thanks in even larger part to Tony Parker’s 24 point effort, the Spurs hung on late for an 91-85 victory.
With the score tied at 80-80 and just over 2 minutes remaining, the Spurs outscored the Lakers 11-5, finishing off big possessions with baskets. After Meeks’ basket cut the lead to 87-83 and Diaw missed two free throws, the Lakers were faced with a must-score possession with 20 seconds on the clock. However, Meeks was stripped in traffic, Manu Ginobilli dunked home his 20th point of the game, and the Lakers fate was sealed.
For the third game in a row, the Lakers bench outscored the starters, with the reserves pouring in 45 of the 85 points. Meeks’ 14 points and Wesley Johnson’s 12 points led the second unit. Pau Gasol led the team in scoring with 20 points while also pulling down a team-high 11 rebounds. However, he was the lone bright spot on a team that struggled shooting all night, finishing 30-82 from the field. While all the Lakers who played found themselves in the score book, it wasn’t enough against a Spurs back court that had their way with the Lakers. Parker and Manu combined for 44 points on 19 for 32 shooting while dishing out 9 assists, many leading to crucial baskets.
The Lakers certainly had their opportunities to hammer the proverbial nail into the coffin. Following two Xavier Henry free throws, the Lakers led 33-18 with 8:12 remaining in the second quarter. But Henry exited the game after the free throws to get stitched up following a nasty spill that left him with a 2-inch cut on his forehead and seemingly took the Lakers energy with him. A 19-6 run cut the lead to two and the Spurs went into halftime down just one.
Their first shot of the third quarter, a Manu three pointer, gave them the lead and the battle was on. Neither team gained control of the game, with no lead bigger than 4 points prior to the late-game crumbling by the Lakers. Boris Diaw’s 11 fourth quarter points helped bury the Lakers, his three 1:39 remaining in the game the most damaging.
Steve Nash saw 23 minutes of action Friday night, one game after sitting out the second game of a back-to-back. But Nash was certainly rusty, going just 1 for 8 from the field and finishing with 5 points and 5 assists. Paired with starting back court mate Steve Blakes 2 of 12 shooting display and the Lakers starting guards shot just 3 of 20, or 15%. The Lakers starters as a whole shot just 13 of 44, with 8 of those makes coming from Gasol.
The Lakers will look to bounce back to .500 when they host Atlanta Sunday evening, with tip off slated for 9:30 Eastern, 6:30 Pacific.