San Antonio Spurs vs. L.A. Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for L.A.
No Kobe Bryant, no Steve Nash and a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs put the Los Angeles Lakers' playoff hopes on shaky ground, but the diminished group got the job done and pushed its way to the brink of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
With neither the Lakers nor the Spurs putting together a solid offensive game at any point throughout, this one turned into a defensive struggle.
Who would have predicted that one?
Pau Gasol couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, and everybody but Dwight Howard and Steve Blake was playing some incredibly inefficient basketball.
Just hearing that seems like it would be an utter disaster for the Lakers, but Blake came out and had one of the best games of his career.
With his three-pointers falling like hail in the first half, Los Angeles was able to hang around with San Antonio and even grab the lead, eventually settling for a halftime tie.
The two teams traded runs in the third quarter, with Los Angeles getting up by six at one point, then San Antonio storming back to tie it up and go back and forth the rest of the way through.
Los Angeles leaned heavily on Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and the struggling Pau Gasol for scoring in the fourth quarter, and somehow that was the right decision.
The Lakers picked up 30 points in the fourth after scoring just 61 in the first three to come away with a huge 91-86 win over the Spurs.
Steve Blake: A
Stat Line: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 8-of-16 shooting, 4-of-8 three-pointers
The Lakers needed somebody to step in and take up the scoring slack with Kobe Bryant sitting at home after tearing his left Achilles tendon.
Who would have thought it would be Steve Blake?
Blake came into the first quarter and felt the game out, played a lot of give-and-take with Dwight Howard and then stepped into a scoring role in the second quarter. He hit four three-pointers in the fourth, making an impact and mercilessly putting points on the board for the Lakers, as the Spurs had their own shooting struggles.
Fourteen of his 18 first-half points came in the second quarter, and the Lakers needed every single one to keep pace with the Spurs.
In the third quarter and beyond, Blake continued to look primarily for his teammates and initiated the offense. He was also impressive on the defensive end, helping to force Tony Parker into a poor shooting night and coming away with a few nice steals.
Jodie Meeks: C+
Harry How/Getty Images
Stat Line: 8 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3-of-11 shooting, 2-of-6 three-pointers
You don't expect Jodie Meeks to impress much on either end of the court in a game against a group as smart as the San Antonio Spurs, but you at least expect him to knock down a handful of shots when he's open.
Meeks was horrible tonight. He missed jump shots, played some questionable defense and made some very bad decisions throughout the game.
Meeks should get some credit for his ability to realize a bad shot and not take it, as he was integral to the Lakers' ball movement, and he even ended up with a few assists along the way.
If he makes a few more shots, then Los Angeles would have a lot less fingernail-biting along the way, but he just couldn't get into a flow, much like the rest of his team.
Of course, Chris Duhon was the second-best option to come in and replace Meeks on the floor, and Duhon was even worse than Meeks.
Metta World Peace: C-
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Stat Line: 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3-of-10 shooting, 0-of-5 three-pointers
The Lakers' perimeter defense was on point against the Spurs, but that's really in large part thanks to the effort from Metta World Peace.
World Peace was fine in the time that he was on the floor, but once again, his minutes were limited considering he had surgery two freaking weeks ago.
There was some solid activity, a steal and a few turnovers forced thanks to some of his help around the outside.
Offensively he was just as bad as the rest of the guys not named Steve Blake.
He made but one of his five shots and was just the classic, bad decision-making World Peace that no Lakers fan likes to see showing up in an important game.
Of course, he did have a single crazy moment on one of the most important plays of the fourth quarter.
World Peace completely ignored the fact that there were two open Lakers along the three-point line and two rotating Spurs defenders on a fast break streaking to the rim. He scored on a layup to give the Lakers a nine-point lead, their biggest of the night.
Pau Gasol: C-
Harry How/Getty Images
Stat Line: 7 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks, 3-of-17 shooting
If Pau Gasol has had a worse offensive game this season, somebody must have destroyed every box score on the Internet, because I just can't find it.
Gasol made a shot three minutes into the first quarter, another with four minutes left in the third quarter and a third with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. In between, he missed 13 shots and then another after the fact for good measure.
Tim Duncan absolutely abused Gasol for the duration of the game, holding strong position in the post, forcing him to shoot hook shots at angles that left him uneven with the basket and giving him no space to get closer to the hoop.
Giving Gasol a bit of credit for the game, as he corralled five offensive rebounds and played some excellent defense of his own.
He seemed so upset with the fact that he couldn't get a single shot to fall that his aggressiveness on defense actually turned into a positive for the Lakers.
It was one to forget when Gasol was shooting, but he needs to remember to bring the same amount of aggression on the glass when guards get past the first wave of defenders around the perimeter.
Dwight Howard: A
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Stat Line: 26 points, 17 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 9-of-15 shooting
Dwight Howard got most of his scoring out of the way in the first quarter, at least as far as scoring while the clock was ticking was concerned.
Gregg Poppovich went ahead and did what everybody expected, playing some Hack-a-Howard in the third and fourth quarter.
It was a surprisingly risky move, as Howard making even 50 percent of his free throws would have meant an improvement on offense (no sarcasm; there was some atrocious offense tonight, folks). Howard went a measly 8-of-17 from the free-throw line to help Pop out a bit.
While he didn't have a dominant offensive game, Howard was the leader that the Lakers needed against the Spurs, putting together a defensive effort that led the team to this enormous win.
The Lakers got most of their game defensive game working from the outside in, starting with Howard's performance. He leaned into Tim Duncan, put the fear of swat into streaking guards and forced rainbow after rainbow from guys looking to get a shot off near the rim.
Offensively he was huge down the stretch. With the Lakers in danger of giving up their lead in the fourth, Howard sunk a very important shot with just over two minutes left and even put down two free throws in two tries.
Sixth Man, Antawn Jamison: B+
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Stat Line: 15 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 4-of-8 shooting, 3-of-5 three-pointers
Antawn Jamison was having a very mediocre, unimportant game for the first 38 minutes. He also had an unimportant final eight minutes, but two minutes of play from him may have saved the Lakers' season.
With the team's offense struggling to put anything of merit together at the start of the fourth (besides an ill-advised jumper from Metta World Peace), Jamison hit a three-pointer. Then he hit two more for good measure.
This all came in a stretch in which San Antonio scored 10 of its 25 fourth-quarter points, and without Jamison making those shots, they could have easily found themselves fighting an uphill battle.
Jamison didn't do much to help the defensive effort. Most of his rebounds were incidental and he played just 20 minutes, but his performance was huge.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Stat Line: 19 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block, 5-of-16 shooting
Los Angeles had two fine performances from the bench and two steaming piles from the four dudes that hit the floor off the bench against San Antonio.
Obviously, Antawn Jamison's stretch run was huge for Los Angeles, as he had three consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter, but the rest of the guys couldn't have scored with a wide-open lane and a high school basketball.
Earl Clark gets a pass because he brought 19 solid minutes of energy, defense and tap-outs when the Lakers needed him to fill in for either Howard or Gasol as the duo got their few precious moments of rest.
Darius Morris wasn't a special kind of bad; he was just unable to get much going with his shot. He made one of his six attempts, but he did have four rebounds and four respectable assists when filling in for Steve Blake.
Finally, there's Chris Duhon. It takes a special kind of poor basketball to turn the ball over three times in four minutes, but Duhon pulled it off.