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Gregg Popovich and the Spurs earned plenty of credit for a job well done in their return to San Antonio last night.
Popovich stuck to his guns with regard to defending Kobe Bryant and wasn't afraid to concede that the man was going to score his points.
Bruce Bowen and the Spurs' help defenders did just about everything right to ensure that Kobe's 30 points last night were scored in as minimally damaging a way as possible.
Odd as that sounds, they were, and that was integral to the Spurs' first victory in the Western Conference Finals.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
The Spurs' modus operandi throughout this series has been to look to keep Kobe Bryant from getting to the line effectively and from wreaking too much havoc on the interior.
Through two games, the first mission could be considered accomplished. The second one couldn't.
In the two games in Los Angeles, the Spurs allowed Bryant to the foul line just five times total, a major achievement for the black and silver.
However, they didn't do much else to prevent him from having his way inside. As tight a defender as he is on the perimeter, Bruce Bowen couldn't control Kobe when he wanted to pound his way toward the paint. If KB24 wanted space, he pushed off and stepped back for baby jumpers. If he wanted to go to the rim, he would either have a lay-up for himself or the sight of a converging help defender. This left the MVP plenty of open passing lanes through which he found no shortage of cutting teammates for lay-ins and dunks. In addition to his 27 and 22-point performances, Bryant combined for 14 assists in his first two games.
That was definitively not the case last night.
The Spurs decided going into Game 3 to slightly adjust their strategy with Bryant, particularly regarding Bowen. Despite the fact that Bowen has made a career of staying virtually inside the shirts of opposing scorers, Gregg Popovich directed him to cushion Bryant on the outside all night. The Spurs committed to making Bryant a jump-shooter from the get-go. Yes, he can be a dangerously good jump-shooter, but more shots from the outside means a continued lack of free throws and less of an opportunity to facilitate easy buckets for his teammates.
It couldn't have worked any better.
Yes, Kobe got his 30 points on a very effective 13-for-23 shooting performance. But he took 16 of his 23 shots from mid-range and beyond (including nine three-point attempts), and his only trip to the foul line came on a haphazard foul by Bowen on a made three-pointer early in the midst of the fourth quarter. Just as significantly, he only managed one assist for the night to go with four turnovers. Meanwhile, Vlad Radmanovic was the only other Laker starter to shoot as high as 50 percent (4-for-8 from the field), with Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol checking in with unimpressive 2-for-11, 1-for-4 and 7-for-18 performances respectively. Certainly, a good portion of this was related to the lack of easy looks afforded the supporting cast thanks to the Spurs keeping Bryant out of the paint.
The result, of course, was a 103-84 Spurs win.
For at least one night in this series, the Spurs got it right against Kobe and his purple and gold crew.