Sports Out West

2013 NBA Playoffs: Lakers plagued by stagnant offense and turnovers in Game 1

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The visiting Los Angeles Lakers opened up their first round playoff series on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs with some familiarities and also some un-familiarities.  Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that mix of something old and something new upended them in a 91-79 loss in Game 1 at the AT&T Center.

A recurring problem that plagued them throughout the 2012-13 season was their propensity to commit turnovers.  They finished the season in the eighth spot among the top 10 teams in total turnovers.  Sunday featured more of the same, as they turned the ball over twice as many times compared to San Antonio—18 giveaways juxtaposed with the Spurs’ nine.  Of course, those turnovers would often lead to opportunities in transition on the offensive end for San Antonio, allowing the Spurs to outscore the Lakers 17-2 in fast break points.

Throughout the season, the Lakers were anything, but offensively deficient when it came to lighting up the scoreboard.  They finished sixth in the league, scoring 102.2 points per game.  Credit goes to the Spurs’ defense for limiting the Lakers to 23 points under their season average on Sunday. 

“I thought tonight was the best defense we played in three or four weeks,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

It also goes without saying that when a team is missing their leading scorer, the point total will often times be less than what it could be.  In the Lakers’ case, not having Kobe Bryant in the lineup due to his season-ending Achilles injury meant that missing his 27.3 points a game was detrimental to their offensive productivity.

“It’s a totally different team obviously (without Bryant),” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who had 18 points, eight assists and three steals.  “Everything’s going through Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.  They play inside a lot.”

Howard and Gasol combined for 36 points and 31 rebounds, but also committed 10 of the 18 Lakers turnovers.  The Spurs’ bigs attempted to deny the entry passes into Gasol or Howard in order to cut off the Lakers’ best offensive weapons without Bryant.

“They were very aggressive,” confirmed Howard.

Still, the efforts of Gasol and Howard helped the Lakers outscore the Spurs in the paint 40-32.  While the Lakers’ inside game flourished, their outside game faltered—they connected on only 3-of-15 from behind the 3-point line.

Steve Nash, who returned to the lineup after missing eight games in the regular season with a strained hamstring, scored 16 points.  Conversely, his 5-of-13 shooting efficiency was substandard as he struggled to get back in rhythm.

The Lakers shot just 41.1 percent, but the Spurs weren’t much better at 37.6 percent.  The Lakers’ defense deserves recognition as well, holding two of their stars—Parker and center Tim Duncan—to under 50 percent shooting.  Parker went 8-of-21, thanks to heady defense from Steve Blake and Duncan was 6-of-15 due to Howard’s constant pressure. 

Nonetheless, the Spurs’ third star, Manu Ginobili, went unaccounted for, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the third quarter.  Ginobili padded the Spurs’ lead with 3-point daggers in the third quarter, including one in the waning seconds that put San Antonio up by 13 to start the fourth quarter.

San Antonio’s best offense came in the first quarter, scoring 24 points on 50 percent shooting, which gave them an early nine-point advantage heading into the second quarter.  The Lakers could never outscore the Spurs by more than a point in any quarter, which allowed San Antonio to preserve their early lead.  In fact, the Lakers’ only lead was 2-0 to start the game.

Knocked down, but not defeated, Howard said in his postgame presser that the Lakers will make the necessary adjustments in Game 2 to ameliorate the turnovers and sluggish offensive output. 

“It’s the first game,” said Howard.  “We can’t get discouraged that we lost the first game.”

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Ben Hernandez Jr.

Ben Hernandez Jr. is a Los Angeles native who is unable to eliminate his fixation for sports, particularly the NBA. He currently works as a writer/editor for a business school and has written for various publications on topics, such as finance, politics, and health. Sports-wise, he has covered the LA Lakers and Clippers on Examiner.com. Ben is also a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.