When a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, a team lacking in obvious basketball talent, a team that will need to scrap and fight and claw to come close to achieving their goals, is provided with an opportunity, that team must capitalize on it. Tonight, the Lakers were given just such an opportunity. They faced a good San Antonio Spurs team at home, and the Spurs were missing one of their key stars. The opportunity became all the more ripe for the taking as the normally proficient Spurs missed shot after shot after shot; layups, bunnies, open threes, these are the shots San Antonio has feasted on for years, and tonight, they were not falling. If the Lakers are to have any hope of being the plucky over-achieving underdog, this was the kind of game the Lakers needed to take advantage of.
They did not.
The Lakers started quickly, building up a double digit lead in the 2nd quarter, only to be derailed by a freak accident as one of Xavier Henry's fearless drives ended in a way that might make a lesser man fear the next one. Henry created contact on his way to the basket, but the path of his fall took his forehead into Wesley Johnson's knee, and the result was a roughly 2 inch gash and puddle of blood on the Staples Center floor. As Henry got patched up in the locker room (9 stitches required), the Lakers got pounded on the court. A nine minute, 23-9 run erased the cushion the Lakers had earned, leaving the 2nd half as a brand new game.
The new game did not end well. Although the game remained close the rest of the way, there was an inevitability to the 2nd half, with the Spurs doing just enough, being in all the right places at all the right times and making all the right shots, to ensure that their final score would be higher than their opponent's. Tony Parker in particular was a demon, hitting 12-18 shots for 24 points on a night in which his team barely managed to beat the 40% shooting mark. The Lakers, of course, did not beat the 40% shooting mark, and that goes a long way towards explaining why they lost the game.
The Los Angeles Lakers caught a good opponent missing key personnel on an off night, but instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, they had even more of an off night themselves. There's no shame in losing to the San Antonio Spurs, but if the Lakers are going to lose games like this regularly, it will be a long, long season.