From the opening tip, it was obvious this was one of those games Kobe Bryant wanted to take over. Call it ego, call it leadership, just know that it has worked before. Many times. He has elevated the Lakers by his sheer will.
It worked Tuesday on one level — this was the most energy and activity the Lakers have played with in weeks. The effort was there from the team.
What was lacking was execution, or the ability to knock down shots against a stout Spurs defense. What was not there was the ability to stop Tony Parker in transition and as he penetrated off the dribble, shredding the Lakers hesitant defense.
The result was a 97-82 win for the Spurs that was further evidence that right now in December they are better than the Lakers.
This was not a statement game, no message for the playoffs. The Lakers and Spurs make their statements in the second season, not late December. But it was an accurate snapshot of where the two teams are right now.
The Spurs are executing. They have revamped their offense but the efficiency is still there. Parker and Manu Ginobili are masterful and the two did a good job of attacking early in the clock before the Lakers got set defensively. Plus the Spurs still play good defense — and on that end of the floor and on the boards Tim Duncan is still key to this team.
The Lakers are not executing. They came out with the energy to right the ship tonight but they have not spent the first two months of the season building a base of good habits, and that has to be rebuilt now. That is not a switch to flip — the Lakers can get there faster because they’ve been there before, but they still have to travel the road.
Kobe came out and scored 8 of the Lakers first 10 — and on the couple plays where Ron Artest got the shot (and good looks) Kobe was still calling for the rock. He wanted to own the game and he hit 4 of 5 to start the game. Then he went cold, hitting 4 of 22 the rest of the night.
Part of that was the Spurs, part of that was Kobe — and the rest of the Lakers. As a team the Lakers shot 35.4 percent for the game and in a key stretch in the fourth quarter where they got some stops they just could not hit shots consistently. That includes Lamar Odom missing a layup driving to his left that is his go-to shot. Or Kobe open in the midrange. Shannon Brown was 1-11.
The one exception was Andrew Bynum, who was 4 for 4 and seems to be finding his touch — his shot was softer than it has been.
The Spurs just continued to impress as they have all season. The Lakers had no answer for Parker, who finished with 23 points on 10 of 18 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Parker blew by whomever the Lakers put on him on the perimeter and with both slow transition defense and hesitant rotations in the halfcourt Parker could pretty much do what he wanted inside.
Same with DeJuan Blair, who was the best big on the court and finished with 17 points and 15 boards.
The Spurs took control of this game at the start of the second half as they picked up the defensive intensity and the Lakers countered that with less player movement and more dribbling. Bad idea.
Kobe tried to carry his team and by the end looked exhausted on the court. This is not the end for the Lakers, but in the last two games they have seen where the bar is set and how far short of it they are right now. The Spurs and Heat are two of the four best teams in the league right now (with Dallas and Boston). The Lakers are on the next tier. They are the one team on that tier fully capable of making the jump up to the elite, but they have to get their execution back.
Something the Spurs already have down.