Thanks to the forward-thinking Gregg Popovich, this is what the San Antonio Spurs have been planning for all season.
Their 102-91 win gave them a 2-0 series lead over a Los Angeles Lakers team apparently growing thinner by the second.
Here's the good news for Lakers fans: Reserve forward Jordan Hill returned to action for the first time since undergoing hip surgery back in January. If his addition alone isn't impressive enough, then his miraculous recovery time should be (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times):
Jordan Hill back playing 3 months into his 6 month recovery— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) April 25, 2013
As for the bad news, though, well that's becoming almost too much to mention at this point.
So Steve Blake is out with a strained hamstring - no not Nash - Blake - him too— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) April 25, 2013
And although he's been on the floor for each of L.A.'s first two playoff games, a clearly hobbled Steve Nash is getting harder to stomach (via TNT's Matt Winer):
Steve Nash is moving like me when I wake up most mornings...— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) April 25, 2013
Game 2 saw a much crisper offensive outing from both teams, but that didn't change the final result. The Spurs shook off their Game 1 shooting woes (37.6 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from deep), converting 51.2 percent of their field goals and 50.0 percent of their perimeter attempts in their 102-91 win on Wednesday night.
Mike D'Antoni's depleted roster managed a respectable 45.1 field-goal percentage in Game 2, but lacked an alpha-dog presence on the offensive end. Five different Lakers scored in double figures, but none poured in more than 16 points (Blake and Dwight Howard).
Clearly Kobe Bryant could have helped establish an offensive focal point. He was the league's third-highest scorer, 27.3 points per game, during the regular season after all.
But more than a scoring lift, the Lakers desperately needed a perimeter stopper to slow San Antonio's attack. Any offensive improvements would have gone for naught with the Lakers surrendering clean looks at an alarming rate.
As has been the case throughout this frustrating season, each forward L.A. step came with many more headed in the wrong direction (via Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News):
Lakers have improved in Game 2 but not on defense. Lakers well aware that part of that in Game 1 partly based on Spurs simply missing shots— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) April 25, 2013
Tony Parker tallied a game-high 28 points, Kawhi Leonard added 16 and Manu Ginobili chipped in with 13 off the bench.
And remember, this isn't the same Mamba who brought home All-Defensive first-team honors nine times during his career, hadn't been all season long actually. No, this version of Bryant, the 34-year-old one, was prone to far too many defensive lapses that exploited the Lakers' interior.
The battle-tested Spurs know full well how to take advantage of another team's weakness (see: Parker's systematic dismantling of Nash). And they've made a living off of the drive-and-dish system that's been a major weapon in Popovich's arsenal for years.
It's not as if those untimely naps would've cost Bryant any playing time; the remaining healthy bodies on L.A.'s perimeter have been used and abused throughout the series.
But would the Mamba's offensive outpouring be enough to change the outcome of either matchup?
The only potential change I can envision is a vintage Bryant performance willing the Lakers away from a sweep, perhaps like his 36-point effort in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder that delayed L.A.'s departure by a game.
Outside of that, it's hard to imagine any noticeable effects that a healthy Bryant would bring. He played some of the finest basketball of his career this season, yet L.A.'s playoff ticket wasn't punched until the final night of the regular season.
He's an all-time great in every respect, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But he's not a miracle worker, folks.
And anything short of that wouldn't save these Lakers.
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