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Game Report: Spurs (2-0) defeat Lakers (1-2) 91 – 85

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The Lakers and Spurs were tied with 2:18 to go, but it was the Spurs who executed well down the stretch to get the win.

With Tim Duncan sitting out tonight with a chest contusion, the Lakers had a legitimate shot to win this game, but they failed to make it happen.

The pivotal sequence, in retrospect, began when Jordan Hill grabbed an offensive rebound but was called for travelling with 2:35 remaining – the replay showed that the travel was prompted by a shove, but there was no call. Then, on the ensuing Spurs possession with 2:18 remaining, Wesley Johnson had a great block on Kawhi Leonard, but the officials ruled it a jump ball; the Spurs regained possession, allowing Tony Parker to score and give the Spurs a lead they would not relinquish.

Although it may be tempting to blame the officiating – or the defense that allowed 11 points over the final 2:18 of the game – this contest was really lost with the poor shooting of Steve Blake (2-12), Steve Nash (1-8), and Xavier Henry (0-6), who just could not get their shots to fall. Had each of them shot even 25% from the floor, the Lakers would have had enough points to win the game.

It’s true that good shooters go cold – and Nash is likely playing hurt – but it’s unfortunate when three players shoot so poorly in a close game.

In fact, Nash – who seemed to be moving well enough – sat the entire fourth quarter, perhaps because coach Mike D’Antoni felt this would give his team the best chance to win.

Blake was on the floor at the end, but his poor shooting seemed to make him gun-shy, and he twice passed up open three-point shot attempts in the final 30 seconds; both plays ended with a pass into the paint and a bucket, but the combination of score and time remaining demanded Blake launch those three-point shots.

Unlike in the Lakers’ loss to the Warriors on Wednesday, when no Laker played well, the Lakers received solid performances tonight from Pau Gasol, Wesley Johnson, and Jodie Meeks.

Gasol recorded a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Johnson scored 12 points and was very active on defense, including two blocks and a steal. Meeks finished with 12 points on 5-9 shooting, and grabbed six rebounds.

The Lakers got off to a great start, with the bench stretching an early Lakers lead to 15 in the second quarter. But the Spurs rallied to trail by only one at the half, and the game was close until the end, when the Spurs pulled away in the final two minutes.

Coach Mike D’Antoni played an 11-man rotation for the third consecutive game, although Jordan Hill’s 12 minutes tonight came entirely in the fourth quarter. Although Hill showed great hustle on the court and made things happen, his active play was not enough to make a difference, as the Lakers were outscored by four in the final quarter.

D’Antoni may continue to go with an 11-man rotation for a while yet, but he may soon decide to shorten his bench if he thinks he’s seen enough. At the moment, the two most likely candidates to be dropped from the rotation would be Steve Nash – simply to give him time to heal from whatever is ailing him – and Shawne Williams, who had his third consecutive quiet night.

Although Xavier Henry finished with only three points, he played his aggressive style from start to finish, and somehow managed to end the game with a team-high plus-minus of +5, despite not making a field goal.

In one memorable play, Henry drove to the hoop, was fouled, and on his way to the floor hit his head on Johnson’s knee. A two-inch gash resulted, and while head trainer Garry Vitti was working feverishly to stop the blood flow, you couldn’t help but notice that Henry could not stop smiling. He was clearly in the moment and realizing how great it was to be playing for the Lakers – and he probably didn’t mind being the centre of attention on national TV.

As many analysts projected the Lakers to start the season 0-3 because of their tough schedule, some fans may find solace in the Lakers being 1-2 at this point. But this game was tied with 2:18 to go, on the Lakers’ home court, and with Tim Duncan in street clothes. They should have won.

This could be one of those games that the Lakers look back on, regretfully, at the end of the season.

Lakers’ Player of the Game

While Johnson and Meeks played strong games tonight, the player of the game was Pau Gasol, who hit a three-pointer for the game’s first basket and ended up with a double-double that included 20 points (8-17 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-4 FT) and 11 rebounds. He also recorded two blocks and an assist in his 29 minutes of floor time.

Gasol looks good through three games, but D’Antoni has been wise to keep his minutes under control – it’s going to be a long season.

Next Game

Sunday, November 3, at 6:30 p.m. PST vs. the Atlanta Hawks

This is an article by Craig Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenashchroni

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