SAN ANTONIO -- Nobody in the San Antonio Spurs' locker room denied that they had won a slopfest, a 106-102 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers in Kobe Bryant’s final appearance at the AT&T Center on Saturday night.
Still, the Spurs believe such outings can help prep them for the postseason.
“It was a great game. The fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs: Spurs and the Lakers,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 14 points and four assists. “Great game, great challenge. I think for us, it was good because we’ve won a lot of games by 15 [points], 20, 30. So, sometimes it’s nice to have games like that where we have to execute and make sure in the fourth quarter we make plays. We had a couple plays [where] we were lost. So we have to make sure the new guys -- LaMarcus [Aldridge] and David [West] -- make sure they’re paying attention to detail, make sure we’re in the right position because when the playoffs come, we’re gonna need these kinds of plays. I thought it was great for us to learn.”
Fresh off a 26-point win at Dallas on Friday night, the Spurs entered the matchup against the Lakers having outscored opponents by 679 points, which marked the best scoring margin through 50 games in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. In all, the club had defeated 18 opponents by 20 points or more.
So the Lakers, at 11-41, seemed ripe for another Spurs ripping.
Bryant and the Lakers prevented all that.
The teams entered halftime with the Spurs leading, 54-51, behind 14 points from Aldridge, 13 from Kawhi Leonard and 11 from Patty Mills. But in the third quarter, Bryant erupted for 16 of his team-high 25 points by hitting 6-of-12 from the field and 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Los Angeles outscored the Spurs, 30-25, in the third quarter to head into the final period leading 81-79; this after trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half.
“It was a pretty sloppy game from our perspective,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And you hate to think it’s because they had an easy time last night [against Dallas], but you wonder about it and you talk about it. It’s the NBA and everybody comes to play and everybody comes to win. It’s all the same stuff every night. You’ve got to execute, and we didn’t for a lot of the game, and [Los Angeles] was fired up. It was a great night for Kobe, which is thrilling to me because I think he’s great. But now, we can enjoy the Dallas win. Losing tonight would’ve taken that away, so we’re glad it came out the way it did.”
With 1:59 remaining, the Spurs regained the lead for good when Parker connected on a 17-footer to make the score 101-99. But down the stretch, no doubt, the Spurs executed in shaky fashion.
The absence of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili due to injury forced the Spurs to play newcomer West in the starting lineup, while giving more playing time to less experienced bench players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons. The team also continues to fully implement new addition Aldridge, who scored a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds. The star forward appears to be finally finding a consistent comfort level in San Antonio’s system.
“I think the closer the games, the better for us to prepare us because we’re not going to beat everybody the way we have,” said wing Danny Green, who contributed 11 points. “I’m not saying it is luck. But for the most part, one or two plays here and there have gone our way to where it has opened up the game for us. Some of it is luck. But in the playoffs, it’s not gonna be like that. So to prepare us for that time, these games are what we need.
“It was impressive to see [the younger players] on the fly catch some of the signs and calls,” he added. “It wasn’t executed to a tee, but we got it down. It was good. I think it was a good learning lesson for them. They’re feeling more comfortable, and [it] was a good sign for the coaching staff as well.”
With the victory, San Antonio improved to 43-8 overall and 28-0 at home. The Spurs have won 37 consecutive games at the AT&T Center dating to last season, and now focus on prepping for their annual Rodeo Road Trip, which begins Feb. 9 at Miami -- the first of eight straight on the road.
“I think we needed that,” Simmons said. “A couple games that we had [were] kind of blowouts, so we haven’t had too many games where we had that crunch time. It was good for us as a team, and just for situational types of plays.”