By Craig Kwasniewski
Getting blown out the 2008 playoffs is familiar territory to the Spurs. The Suns rolled them in Game 4 by 19 but the Spurs still advanced. The Hornets rolled them in Games 1, 2 and 5 by an average of 19.7 points but the Spurs still advanced in Game 7 *AT* New Orleans. So after getting their asses handed to them by the Lakers last night 101-71, we should expect a similar turnaround... right?
WRONG! The Lakers aren't Hornets!
The Lakers aren't coached by Byron Scott. The guy ran one single solitary play (the screen and roll at the top of the key with Chandler and CP3) and made zero adjustments throughout the series. The best stat of the playoffs? Phil Jackson is 40-0 when his teams win Game 1. Call it an inflated stat because he had Jordan, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe but wouldn't there be at least one upset elimination if PJ was an average coach? As I've said before, Popovich and Jackson are the two best coaches in the NBA!
The Lakers don't depend emotion for W's. New Orleans rode the energy of their fans to those huge victories. The problem with emotional teams is that they get thrown off their games really easily when things get tough (2002 Sacramento Kings anyone?). The biggest (and most overrated) storyline of the Conference Semifinals was the 22-3 record for home teams. The better stat was 2-3, which was the combined record of the Pistons and Lakers on the road in the Semis. Both of those teams are comprised of players like Kobe, Chauncey, Rip, D-Fish, and Tayshaun who seem to lower their pulses in the playoffs. Phil Jackson spends an entire season preparing his team to win without relying on emotion.
There won't be any Robert Horry incident. The Spurs won't be able to throw their hitman at the Lakers. Horry won three titles in LA. His most famous career moment happened with the Lakers in 2002. He's still very much a legend and despite playing for the hated Spurs, he still draws a smattering of applause when he enters the game. His conscious won't allow it to happen. But if it does, read above about emotional teams. Unlike the Suns and Hornets, the Lakers won't get distracted by thuggery. Look back at the Jackson era in Chicago, the Knicks and Pistons both tried to throw off the Bulls with physical antics. Instead of punching back, the Bulls laughed it off and just played smarter. Expect the same with the Lakers.
The Lakers don't get blown out (unless Kobe wants them to). Discounting the infamous Game 7 from 2006, the Kobe-led Lakers simply don't get blown out. Down 20 with 16 minutes left, the Lakers rallied and won. Equally, down 18 with 16 minutes left, the Spurs cleared their bench and quit. While the Celtics, Spurs, and Hornets have has several blow-out losses, the Lakers have lost by 5 and 8 (BTW - in OT). The Spurs will need a full 48 minute effort to beat the Lakers.
The Spurs respect the Lakers. Look at the body language of the Spurs at the end of Game 2 and during the postgame interviews. They don't seem to exude that "wait till we get home" type of confidence like in the Hornets series. They realize that they blew a great chance in Game 1 and that the Lakers are gaining momentum as the series moves along.
The Spurs are gassed. The Hornets series took a toll on the Spurs. Pop even said that last night's loss had a lot to do with their fatigue. So Pop cleared the bench to rest his guys, but that also allowed the Lakers starters to rest up and get Trevor Ariza (out since January) some much-needed PT. The Conference Finals go every other day so where do they find the time for rest? They're loaded with 30-somethings, where are they going to find the energy?
Manu Ginobili is broken. The biggest reason why the Spurs won't have a similar Hornets-series rebound is that Manu Ginobili is obviously hurt. I was expecting to see a very aggressive Manu slash to the hole in Game 2, but instead he camped out behind the three point arc. Obviously the Lakers knew of the injury because they put Radmanovic (who plays no defense) on Ginobili. The Spurs don't have the depth to beat the Lakers if Manu is a non-factor.
So the big question is, can the Spurs win 4-of-5 against the Lakers?