Stranger still was the fact that Kobe took nary a shot—not from the field, not from three, not even from the free-throw line—over the final four minutes of the game.
Though that would seem less a credit to Kobe and more a pock on the Lakers game plan down the stretch. They had 9.3 seconds to get the Mamba a shot to tie (if not to win), but wound up with Pau launching from the corner while guarded by Duncan, one of the best defensive big men in NBA history.
Clearly, the Lakers have some work to do. They turned the ball over 17 times—one fewer than their season average—with just 18 assists, made only 14-of-20 three-point attempts and missed eight of their 22 shots from the charity stripe.
But there were plenty of positives to glean from this game. For one, the Purple and Gold were playing with Darius Morris (a second-year second-rounder and the team's third-string point guard) in the starting lineup on account of Steve and Steve's dual absences. The bench also acquitted itself relatively well, winding up just two points shy of what San Antonio's reserves totaled.
Best of all, the defensively challenged Lakers limited a team that came into the night ranked seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency to 84 points on 38.9 percent shooting.
And they did this against the squad with the best record in the West, amidst all the multitude of distractions brought on by their ludicrous coaching carousel.
The inability of the bigs (i.e., Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill) to hang onto the ball, be it a hot pass or a ball off the glass, is still disconcerting and the second unit is, well, suspect.
Nonetheless, this team will improve. Mike D'Antoni is on his way, and Nash should be back to help within the next week or two.
Teams with title expectations usually don't settle for moral victories, but if you hadn't noticed by now, these Lakers aren't your average championship hopefuls.
As if they've ever been.