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Lakers listlessly go down to defeat
SAN ANTONIO – How many times over the years has Kobe Bryant said the playoffs are about execution, not momentum?
Sure enough, the Lakers' patchwork lineups were missing cohesion — and all the individual elements Bryant brings — in a lackluster postseason opener Sunday.
The Lakers lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 91-79, because of a feeble offensive attack despite the return to action of sore-legged point guard Steve Nash. The absence of the injured Bryant's shot creation for himself and others also was glaring.
Starting a five-man playoff unit that didn't play a single second together in the regular season — Elias Sports Bureau could not quantify if it was first time in NBA history that has happened — the Lakers predictably lacked ideal togetherness and aggressiveness in Game 1.
"If we want it, we've got to go take it," Lakers center Dwight Howard said. "That's what we've got to do the next game."
The Lakers had the momentum of winning their last five regular-season games — the final two-plus without Bryant — while San Antonio finished the season as "discombobulated" as their coach, Gregg Popovich, could ever remember entering the playoffs, especially on defense.
It didn't matter, as the Spurs held control the entire way Sunday — as teams with superior execution will. The Lakers' only lead of the game came at 2-0, after Nash hit a jumper off a Howard screen in a rare demonstration of just the style Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni promised when he was hired.
Injuries and uncertainty over strategy went on to dominate the Lakers' season instead. That pick-and-roll game, along with Bryant's isolation attack, largely went to the junkyard for what Popovich describes as a "post-oriented" Lakers offense of late.
Asked about the Lakers without Bryant, Tony Parker said: "It's a totally different team," adding about the Spurs' game plan: "Everybody was focused on stopping (Pau) Gasol and Dwight."
Gasol's six and Howard's four turnovers led to the Lakers doubling San Antonio's nine turnovers — contributing to the Spurs' 17-2 advantage in fastbreak points — and left D'Antoni citing turnovers as "the difference in the game."
Howard has been openly asking for the Lakers to play inside-out this season, but the Lakers' 3-of-15 3-point shooting didn't help create any space inside at any point Sunday. The Spurs' swarming defense knew what was coming — and the Lakers didn't have the experience executing that post-up style together. It's simply a tough spot for the Lakers considering Popovich said this pregame about the playoffs: "You have to do what you practiced for 82 games — well. You do what you did all year, and either it's good enough or it's not."
Despite Nash making that first shot, the Lakers scored just 15 first-quarter points. Gasol's three baskets in that time were a 16-footer, a 17-footer and a put-back. Unable to travel with the team because of his ruptured Achilles' tendon, Bryant tried in his own way to help with execution via Twitter, at one point suggesting Gasol take over the offense by going to the post and refusing to leave it.
Although D'Antoni stayed optimistic about Game 2 Wednesday and the possibility the Lakers would hit more jumpers, the coach flashed the frustration he sometimes does after tough losses upon being asked about Bryant on Twitter emphasizing the ball going to the post.
D'Antoni said they tried to get the ball inside, then rolled his eyes, saying: "It's great to have that commentator."
D'Antoni tried to downplay the situation, saying: "He's a fan right now. You guys put a little bit more importance on that kind of fan. ... He wants to be part of it, so that's good."
And Bryant tweeted in response: "A fan?? Lol." But he later noted that he won't tweet during the next game to avoid any possible distraction to his team.
The reality is that Bryant can't do much from so far away. And D'Antoni is in a bind trying to build an identity at the final hour — while additionally missing Bryant's competitive drive when he's just "a fan" instead of bringing his usual fire on the court.
It was the Spurs' veteran, Manu Ginobili, who had the most Kobe-like stretch taking over the game and finished with 18 points in 19 minutes.
"He does what he does," Popovich said about Ginobili — though he could've just as well been speaking of a healthy Bryant.