It is a sad notion that this is what the members of this team sacrificed for, but one can't escape the reality that there's not much the Lakers can do to win this series. You can't win in the modern NBA without a solid perimeter offense and the Lakers are now bereft of their top three options in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Steve Blake. Even when the latter two were healthy, however, the Lakers were toothless on offense and couldn't muster a consistent enough attack to keep up with the efficient, well-honed machine the Spurs are with Manu Ginobili back in the fold. There's not really more to say about this from a schematic perspective. The Spurs are swarming the interior to limit Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and can do so at will because no one from the outside is going to hurt them enough for them to change that strategy.
The Lakers' backcourt now consists of Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, and Chris Duhon, which says enough about their prospects for the rest of the series. That window is now closed. We can think back on whether this team could have been more competitive or not with a healthy roster, but resigning ourselves to what looks like a dour offseason other than trying to bring Dwight Howard back into the fold seems to be the course of action to take right now. Still, give the team this: they never quit on this season. From a hole at 17-25, they came back and made it to the playoffs. Despite losing their best player for the series and being severely outgunned on the perimeter, the players have tried their hearts out. It certainly hasn't produced the results we have wanted, but that's an endearing image we can take from a lost season.
- Steve Blake -- Of anyone who has been injured this year on this team and the circumstances it happened under, few deserved it less than Steve Blake, who was trying his hardest to be a one-man show for the Lakers' perimeter offense. He had 14-4-2 on a 61.2 TS% and one turnover at one point and fell off sharply from that as the game progressed, but it was a solid performance overall for a guy who came into this year with no expectations for carrying the offense in such a manner. It was even a discussion about whether he would be the primary backup -- pokes Drew for championing Chris Duhon -- and he not only emphatically proved that, but was better than the guy starting in front of him for a fair chunk of the year. He may end up being a casualty of the cleaning house in the offseason to cut salary, but he gave us his best year in a Lakers uniform this season and should be lauded for that.
- Dwight Howard -- Dwight played well and had some nice sequences, although it's far from the kind of performance you want from him. This noted, it's a pretty clear case of managing expectations since the Spurs made it their top priority to prevent clean touches to Dwight on the block. All of the Lakers' pet lob plays, the 4-5 pick-and-roll, and so forth were all guarded with Dwight in mind rather than ballhandler for fairly obvious reasons and more than anyone else on the team, Dwight needs to be fed in good position to score. Otherwise, he did his job well on defense and his absence in the third quarter killed any chance for the Lakers to make any run down the stretch of the game. Unsurprisingly, most of those were caused when he was fighting for position and waiting for the entry pass the Lakers' perimeter guys had a lot of trouble in getting to him.
- Steve Nash -- Considering that Nash was dragging himself up and down the floor and appeared as if he was moving through molasses the whole game, he did remarkably well. He hit most of his shots, didn't turn the ball over, and competed well on defense. It ultimately was irrelevant since the Lakers needed the version of Nash from two years ago to show up to have a glimmer of hope in this series and injuries robbed them of any opportunity to see if that was possible. It's been a tough year for Nash, as he lost the first half of the year to a freak injury and never had the opportunity to get back in shape to get past the injuries that stole the stretch of the season for him. Hopefully this summer will do him some good for next year.
- Metta World Peace -- Another member of the walking wounded, Metta had to emerge as an offensive threat and help shut down the Spurs' perimeter game to help the Lakers get back into this series. He didn't exactly fulfill those expectations, but given his current state, he wasn't all that bad either. A failure to hit threes hurt him on offense, although he was one of the few guys who was actually somewhat of a threat to score at the rim once he got a head of steam. On defense, MWP was the only reasonable chance of doing something against Manu Ginobili and needless to say, that didn't come to pass. A limited Metta doesn't have the foot speed to be all that effective on the perimeter and he's yet another reminder of how screwed up the Laker rotation is at the moment.
- Earl Clark -- This was a marginally better game from Clark and it's saying something that a forgettable performance like this looks good compared to what his usual level has been lately. The most important thing was the increase in his confidence, as although a lot of his drives were adventures to say the least, it indicated that he was willing to take a bigger role in the offense. Given how much the paint is inaccessible, Clark getting free for midrange shots should be a more significant part of the offense when he's on the floor and he's getting better about freeing himself in those spots. This noted, Clark's defense was pretty bad, as he lacks the ability to chase guards through screens and wasn't very effective in slowing down the Spurs' perimeter game. On the plus side, he's almost certainly depressed his price on the free agent market and the Lakers can probably retain him at a reasonable price at this rate.
- Honorable mention to Pau Gasol, whose midrange shot betrayed him yet again as he put forth a so-so game as the Lakers' primary playmaker. Cutting down the turnovers helped the Lakers' overall offensive flow, but as we have said multiple times in this column, Pau needs the threat of his shooting to make the rest of his playmaking work. It allows him to be more of a threat on the 4-5 pick-and-roll, which the Lakers moved towards the side to give Pau and Dwight more room to operate and even a lane to the rim, something he took advantage of a few times. Unfortunately, Pau also offered practically no rim presence, a fairly consistent theme for him this year, and the moment Dwight left with foul trouble was the death knell for the Lakers' chances of making it a game. Pau's simply too limited in space to help the Lakers much in that department.
- Darius Morris -- Morris will essentially get to audition for a roster spot next year in the remaining two games, so he needs to play somewhat more like he did in garbage time than the version that was on the court when the minutes mattered. Most of his points came in only after the game was already decided and he wasn't that effective in his designated role as a three-and-D guy beforehand. To be fair, Ginobili is a tough cover for the best of defenders and Morris did about as good of a job as could be reasonably expected, but this was supposed to be his strength and lone NBA-ready skill. He'll have to show that and a greater grasp for his responsibilities on the offensive end, as the rampant dribbling with no plan has to stop. It would perhaps be beneficial for Morris to get a few reads under his belt to look at, especially when the team is supposed to be inside-out, instead of looking utterly hapless whenever he has to handle the ball.
- Antawn Jamison -- This simply isn't sufficient for Jamison to justify his minutes given how much the Spurs continuously pick on his awful defense. Unless he's a double-digit threat and spacing the floor, there's simply too many times during which the Spurs are going to systematically take apart his lackluster pick-and-roll or man coverage. His wrist has probably compromised his ability to field the ball cleanly on the cuts, a big loss considering how big a part of his offense those sequences are. And as we have seen this year, Jamison is not your traditional floor spacer at the three or the four, putting more emphasis on plays on which he can get to the rim, which is naturally difficult given how much the Spurs are flooding the lane. On the plus side, Jamison does shoot considerably better at home, so if the Lakers are going to steal a game and at least make a mark on the scoreboard this series, he will have to be a principal actor in that.