The San Antonio Spurs completely outplayed the Lakers last night for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately for them, a regulation game lasts 48. After being grounded on the tarmac in New Orleans Monday night, the Spurs showed tired legs down the stretch as jump shots continued to fall short.
But I won't blame the loss on the lack of rest since the defending champs were able to jump out to a 20-point lead with just 18 minutes to go in the game. The main scapegoat for the game one loss has to be coach Gregg Popovich.
Pop made the same mistake that he made in the 2006 Western Conference semi-finals against the Dallas Mavericks. When Mavs coach Avery Johnson went to a smaller lineup of Devin Harris, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, and Dirk, Popovich countered by putting in a lineup with Tim Duncan as the only big man, leaving Francisco Elson and Rasho Nesterovic on the bench.
This allowed Harris and Terry to get to the rim with ease as only one shot blocker remained in the game. Although the Spurs may have matched up better player-for-player, the Mavericks were able to convert easy lay-ups and dunks.
The same thing happened last night against the Lakers. After Phil Jackson's initial lineup failed to produce, he chose to play small ball by playing Fisher, Vujacic, Kobe, Farmar, and the lone big man, Gasol. Again, Popovich foolishly countered, leaving both Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas on the bench and allowing Kobe Bryant to get into the lane to either score on his own, or get the ball to Pau. Once Duncan went over to help on Kobe, there were no other big men back to defend if Kobe were to pass it to Gasol.
The Spurs are one of the best teams in the league every year, especially on the defensive end, because there are always two big men in the game. Tim Duncan is always playing alongside a solid big defender who is also a role player on offense.
When Oberto is in the game, the Spurs rebound better and have someone who can pass from the post position. With Thomas in the game, they have someone who can defend Gasol one-on-one and hit an outside jumper. Having two big men not only helps on the defensive end, but also gets the opposition in foul trouble.
If Popovich finally learns his lesson that he needs to keep two big guys in the game at all times, the Spurs will look better on both ends of the floor. He can't keep adjusting and falling into the traps of other coaches by going with the small ball lineup of four guards and Duncan.
Both teams will be tired for game two on Friday, so hopefully the Spurs will not fall flat midway through the third quarter. If they stick to their guns, defend well, and make sure big men are in the game to stop penetration and get easy baskets, the series will go back to San Antonio tied at one.