Three thoughts from the Spurs' 102-91 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday in Game 2 of their first-round series:Same old story. San Antonio used its age-old formula to take a 2-0 series lead while pulling away from the stubborn Lakers. Tim Duncan gave the Spurs 16 points and two blocks in 34 minutes. They received 28 points, seven assists and no turnovers from Tony Parker, despite his protestations that he continues to be limited physically by late-season injuries. Their role-playing star of the evening was Kawhi Leonard (8-of-12 shooting) with 16 points and seven rebounds.
But the ultimate difference was on the edges. The Lakers kept it close, but the Spurs' superior teamwork, focus and depth showed at the ends of the quarters. They ended the opening period on a 10-3 run. The half finished with a 13-4 San Antonio spurt thanks to the shooting of Matt Bonner (10 points on just five shots off the bench) and a typical pair of devastating threes by Manu Ginobili that put Los Angeles in a 56-48 hole at halftime.
"It was huge -- first quarter, second quarter, when we couldn't close it out. It set the tone," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "It's always Parker and Ginobili and Duncan, but then somebody else picks up the slack. And tonight it was Leonard and Bonner -- both of them played a terrific game."
A quarter-closing three by San Antonio's Gary Neal extended the advantage to 78-68 going into the fourth. And then, when the Lakers pulled within 93-84 with 2:49 left, Parker went on a run of his own: He scored nine straight points to finish off the win. Parker went 8 for 14 in the second half for 24 points -- more in the closing quarters than anyone else managed for the entire game.
At halftime Parker had gone just 1 for 6 with five assists. "He played a team game in the first half -- he moved the ball, didn't get involved all that much," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "I was actually a little bit concerned. We always need him to be aggressive. And he knew that ... we needed him to score. We needed to establish some momentum offensively and he really got it going in the third quarter."
Howard's ongoing frustration. The center led the Lakers with 16 points and nine rebounds, but foul trouble and five turnovers set him back. In the early going Howard was giving the Lakers a preview of the difference he might make next year if he should re-sign and return to full health. He was protecting the paint on his way to blocking four shots while forcing Tiago Splitter into foul trouble.
But Howard was forced to the bench with his fourth foul four minutes into the second half. At other times he was unable to exploit his matchup with the 6-10 Bonner. "Of course he's giving Dwight a big advantage in size and strength and quickness -- I can keep going," said Ginobili with a smile of Bonner's defense. "But he did a great job getting around him, fronting him and helping. He was very active and getting rebounds, too."
Howard laughed and shook his head when asked if Bonner had gotten under his skin. "No," he said. "That's funny."
The Lakers weren't laughing after being held to 45.1 percent from the field and only 13 free-throw attempts. "We played two pretty good games on the defensive end back to back," said Popovich. "That was our goal at the beginning of the season and we did it for most of the year. We got it back for these two games, and we'll see if we continue to play good defense when we get out to L.A."
Howard was expecting to see two and occasionally three defenders for the remainder of the series. "They can send as many guys as they want in there, but I just got to trust the guys on my team to hit those shots (from the perimeter)," said Howard, who then repeated his promise to wear out San Antonio's big men over the games ahead. "They got to battle every possession, but doing that for a whole series is going to wear them down. I can't get too frustrated to where it takes me out of what I need to do for my team."
Lakers' unhealthy outlook.Steve Blake was aggressive, scoring 16 points before suffering a strained hamstring. Steve Nash (nine points and six assists in 31 minutes) was limited in his movement, and Kobe Bryant (silent on Twitter during Game 2) obviously won't be seen until next season."
In the meantime Ginobili, who had missed nine straight games at the end of the regular season, continued to look aggressive as ever while providing 13 points (on seven shots) and seven assists with one turnover in 19 minutes. "I'm ready to play more," he said.
The Spurs remember leading the Thunder 2-0 in the conference finals last year before being swept of the next four games. "In the past we've lost series like this," said Ginobili. "We have a great advantage, but we've got to be very humble, work hard, knowing full well we want to win a game on the road."
The Lakers were focused on holding homecourt. But even if they are able to even the series this weekend, they must still return to San Antonio with this dismal understanding: They are now 16-27 on the road this season, while the Spurs are 37-6 at home.