Lakers Take/Spurs Give Away Game 1
The San Antonio Spurs surely would've taken any scenario in which Kobe Bryant would score just two points in the first half and they would have a 20-point lead in the second half.
Put those two together and you can generally scratch off one in the win column for the ol' defending champions.
But the Spurs, with all of their postseason experience, savvy and smarts, couldn't finish a game that was played at their preferred tempo. It was an uncharacteristic breakdown for a team that was 18-minutes away from stealing homecourt advantage in the Western Conference finals - until the Lakers closed out the game on an improbable 44-20 run to win 89-85.
During the run, Bryant outscored the Spurs by himself, with 23 points. Bryant's confidence in the postseason has never been questioned.
How many other rookies would shoot an airball, then go right back and shoot another?
So, should it come as a surprise that Bryant would wait until a championship team established a two-touchdown, two-field goal lead before he decided to get aggressive?
Yes. That even tests the limits of overconfidence - for everyone who isn't Kobe, I guess. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said Bryant was doing his "trust-his-teammates thing," as he took just three shots, had five assists and didn't score until the final 90 seconds of the first half.
But the passive, passing Kobe was a shock to his own coach, Phil Jackson, who joked that Bryant went on vacation in the first half, abandoning the triange offense for the "Bermuda Triangle" offense.
He still only had four points when the Spurs took a 65-45 lead with 5 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter. Bryant said he never felt like his team was out of it. "I've been in games where we've been down that much and it felt like we were down 20 and coming back felt like a big hill," Bryant said. "This game didn't really feel like that."
Aut once Bryant decided to go, the Spurs decided to stop playing. Popovich summed up the devastating loss best when he said afterward, "Hurts like hell."
Lakers reserve Jordan Farmar was asked if this was the type of loss that could demoralize an opponent. "I hope so."
Tim Duncan looked like he was ready to dominate the Lakers through the first three quarters, as he scored 22 points on 10-for-20 shooting. But he made just two of his final five shots in the fourth quarter - and one of those shots he was credited for was actually tipped in by Bryant.
How bad were the Spurs in the fourth quarter? They made just 3 of 21 shots (14.3 percent) and committed five turnovers in the period. With the exception of the Bryant/Duncan tip, the Spurs missed their final 14 shots.
Popovich said it is best that his team forgets about the game altogether, but when asked if he was concerned about how the game would affect his team mentally, Popovich said, "Well, yes. Coaches worry about everything."
Duncan tried to keep the loss in perspective, when reporters pressed him about it being a wasted opportunity that could be too much to overcome. "You have to win four games," Duncan said. "Losses are losses. We were up 20 and we hope to put them away and really put them on their heels, btu we didn't. We've got to recover and come out the next game and try to get that one."
And that's really all the Spurs need at this point - one road win to take the series, and homecourt advantage back to San Antonio.
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