Since Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have been in the league, the Lakers and Spurs have faced each other in the playoffs seven times. The Lakers won four of the previous matchups; the Spurs won two. The winner of each previous matchup went on to the NBA Finals — every time.
So it is easy to understand why there is so much hype surrounding their seventh series, this time in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. Together, these two dynasties account for 11 of the past 15 NBA Finals appearances, including a combined nine NBA championships.
These two giants of the Western Conference went to battle Sunday afternoon in Game 1. Despite the Lakers being within 10 points of the Spurs the entire game, an L.A. victory never realistically seemed within reach. The crowd was loud, the San Antonio players were intense, and the Spurs conquered in San Antonio, 91-79.
It was a defensive battle from the opening tip, and both teams seemed out of rhythm for most of the game. Throughout the matchup, there were several key points that allowed both teams to stay competitive:
Defense: Defense was key for the Spurs, as they forced 18 Laker turnovers, which led to 17 fast-break points. San Antonio held up well in transition, allowing only two Laker fast-break points. And the Spurs covered the 3-point line extremely effectively, holding Los Angeles to 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
The Lakers' defense was the only reason that L.A. kept the score close the entire game. The Lakers held San Antonio to mere 37 percent shooting from the floor and didn't allow the Spurs any easy looks at the basket. Lakers point guard Steve Blake did extremely well guarding Tony Parker. Although Parker had 18 points, he shot only 8 for 21 from the floor.
Bench production: San Antonio's bench production was the ultimate reason for its victory Sunday afternoon. The San Antonio bench outscored the Los Angeles bench 40-10, including 18 points from Manu Ginobili, who really energized the Spurs in the third quarter, leading them to pull away from the Lakers.
Home court: The Spurs entered the game with the third-best home record in the NBA. The AT&T Center has always been a tough place to play for opposing teams, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. The arena was buzzing with energy the entire game, and the atmosphere of playoff basketball was clear throughout. The San Antonio players fed off of the crowd's excitement, and cruised to the victory.
Post production: Arguably the greatest power forward to ever play the game, Duncan did not disappoint in this star-studded matchup. Duncan recorded his 139th career postseason double-double, which is the most among active players. He scored 17 points and snatched up 10 rebounds and three steals.
The Lakers' post players were the only really consistent thing really going for L.A. Pau Gasol had 16 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists, while his partner in crime, Dwight Howard, had 20 points and 15 rebounds. Both Gasol and Howard were extremely valuable to the Lakers defensively, relentlessly altering shots coming in the lane.
No Kobe: The gap that Bryant left in the Lakers' roster when he sustained a season-ending injury could not have been more evident. The Lakers really struggled in scoring consistently, and scoring is something that Bryant is known to do better than anyone in the league. Los Angeles had no player on the floor that could create their own shot whenever needed, and the Lakers really couldn't find an offensive rhythm.
With the loss, the Lakers fall to 0-1 in the first-round playoff series. They suit up again Wednesday night in San Antonio.
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