For a time, it was a closer battle than the previous installment of the series, but the Los Angeles Lakers were still unable to knock off the San Antonio Spurs in Texas. The Spurs took Game 2 Wednesday, 102-91, and have a two-game advantage on seventh-seeded Los Angeles in the series.
It was a contest that featured eight ties and nine lead changes, due primarily to first-quarter basket-trading.
Howard, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting, has sprung back at an opportune time, but perhaps too late for the Lake Show. Howard appears healthier than ever before in his Lakers tenure, active and animated on both ends. He racked up monster blocks in the first half and several flashy finishes on the other end.
Howard found himself in early foul trouble; he committed his fourth in the middle of the third quarter. In the second half, with the Lakers trailing, the center's performance tailed off a bit from the first two quarters and the lack of hustle proved costly on the boards.
Steve Nash was visibly ailing in the second half and finished with a line of nine points, six assists and three rebounds in 31 minutes. By the fourth quarter, Nash was unable to perform, and backup Steve Blake was sidelined with a right hamstring strain.
If Nash and Blake are unavailable moving forward, the Lakers' options at point guard are Chris Duhon, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.
Five Spurs finished with double-digit scoring totals, Tony Parker highlighted the stat sheet with 28 points and seven assists, and Manu Ginobili put together as solid a performance San Antonio could've asked of him.
On a minutes restriction, the 35-year-old shot 4-of-7 (3-of-4 from three) for 13 points. His seven assists also tell the tale of his crucial playmaking in just 19 minutes of action.
Tim Duncan put together his usual solid performance, with 16 points on 8-of-18 shooting and five rebounds.
Kawhi Leonard contributed 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting and supplied us with these wonderful GIFs:
For Los Angeles, Pau Gasol scored 13 to go along with nine rebounds and four assists on a mediocre 5-of-14 shooting.
Since Gasol's reinsertion into the lineup, Mike D'Antoni has made use of various high-low sets between him and Dwight. After a few failed attempts early on, the two connected on a pretty alley-oop in the second half.
Jordan Hill, who'd been out of the Lakers lineup since Jan. 6, returned when the Spurs lead ballooned to 15 midway through the fourth quarter. He scored a bucket and grabbed two rebounds in six minutes.
Had Kobe Bryant been live-tweeting this one, he definitely would've had something to say about the end of the first half. In the closing seconds with a foul to give, the Lakers opted not to foul Ginobili before he splashed a three to turn the five-point lead into an eight-point halftime advantage.
The Lakers matched their three Game 1 three-pointers in the first quarter Wednesday, but their success from distance fizzled as the game moved forward. They finished at a 36.4 percent clip, making eight of their 22 attempts from downtown.
The Spurs also immediately improved on their Game 1 long-range woes by shooting 71 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. They finished 7-of-14 from three.
For the game, San Antonio shot 51.2 percent from the field, including 59 percent shooting in the fourth quarter to put the game away. It looked something like this:
If we've learned anything over the first two games of this series, it's that the Spurs offense is about as good as you'll find in the postseason—an offense the Lakers can only hope to outscore, not deter.
With Kobe inactive, and Steve Nash a mere shell of his healthy self, Los Angeles will need plenty of luck to make this an interesting series.
Game 3 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET at the Staples Center.