Wait a sec. That’s not right. My mistake. The Lakers aren’t the defending world champions. The Spurs are.
But I think you can understand how a gaffe like that could happen. In fact, I’m sure there are millions of basketball fans who join me in error after witnessing Game 1 at Staples Center. Simple case of mistaken identity.
The Lakers played like a tough-minded band of no-nonsense mercenaries bent on the destruction of their opponents (at least in the second half), whereas the Spurs performed like upstarts who couldn’t quite handle the spotlight.
Los Angeles found itself down 65-45 with 5:54 left in the third quarter. It went on to beat the Spurs, 89-85.
The Spurs. The defending world champions. They blew a 20-point lead. They squandered opportunities down the stretch. They looked like postseason newbies.
Meanwhile, the Lakers — behind Kobe Bryant, naturally — clamped down, played defense, hit big shots, made good decisions, kept their poise and ultimately prevailed.
The Lakers. The team that didn’t get past the first round in the previous two years. The club that hasn’t sniffed a championship since 2002, when the makeup of the roster was not only different but more illustrious and experienced.
"We were deep in the hole, no doubt about that," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That was a big comeback. We were able to do things to change the course of that game."
Two of the biggest adjustments: Get Kobe to contribute, and play defense.
At halftime, he had two points. Jackson made an on-air crack during the game that Kobe wasn’t in his triangle but rather lost in the Bermuda Triangle, a line that has been used often by amateur Sheckies in high tops. But there was truth in the remark. Bryant seemed oddly disoriented.
"I told him I didn’t think he was taking the shots that were available to him," Jackson said.
In the second half, Bryant became Bryant again. He finished with 27 points, 14 in the fourth quarter when the Lakers took control. Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich of Bryant’s missing person’s act in the first half: "Kobe was doing his 'trust your teammates' thing in the first half."
Then there was defense. The Lakers played the first half as if they had gotten the time of the game wrong, a fact Jackson made sure to point out. In the first half, Tony Parker had 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting and was his usual astounding self. In the second, the Lakers denied him penetration and he went 1-for-7 over the final 24 minutes for six points. He had zero points on 0-for-4 marksmanship in the fourth.
"They were doing a good job of trapping the pick-and-rolls," Parker said, "I had to get rid of the ball and basically trust my teammates. That’s what happened. In the second half, if they are going to do that, I’m just going to try and move the ball."
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