A sign that a team has aged beyond the point of being called “veteran” and is now officially “old” is when it gives up 20 point and 17 point leads at separate points in the same series, rather than putting the strangle hold upon its opponent. This happened to the Spurs twice on the road against the Lakers, and it means that they were out in five rather than the seven I thought this series would go.
That, and Kobe Bryant got that Black Mamba look in his eye at the beginning of the second half and, as he would probably put it, got off. 39 points and seemingly could not miss in the second half. While Bryant’s pure dominance was the show, without Pau Gasol’s 12 and 19 boards, Lamar Odom’s hustle pays, and the crucial sots from Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton, the Lakers aren’t back in it — and the game was closer at points than it really seemed.
What the Spurs may have to acknowledge is that they have a bench that mostly does not score unless they are spotting up wide open; it is not a bench that creates off the dribble, and when Manu Ginobili cannot create off the dribble becuase of a combination of injury and very good defense, they sink against teams that play fast. In a sense, San Antonio was both good and lucky enough to survive against New Orleans because they were a less experienced version of the Lakers (and obviously without a force as dominant as Bryant; Chris Paul will probably never reach such a level.) They are going to have to replenish themselves with players who can force their way into the lane around Tim Ducnan, who did his job with a triple-double as Manu struggled and the only options for Tony Parker were to score on his own.
So, the king is dead, for this year. Long live the MVP — while David Stern has to ice down the boner in his pants until he hears the horn sound on a Celtics victory in the next few days.
Photo: AP/Mark J. Terrill