Spurs Down Hornets, Lakers Up Next

After the first two games of the series with New Orleans, the Spurs looked all but done.  Tim Duncan was battling the flu and played two of the worst games of his playoff career.  The Hornets looked like the younger and stronger team that was ready to take over the mantle of Best in the West—not to mention that winning on the road was  an all but impossible undertaking in this year’s playoffs.  The Spurs, however, are a veteran team, battle-tested, and seemingly able to pick up their game when the pressure is on.  Battling a younger team, and needing to win one game on the road to keep their defense of their championship alive was as pressure packed a situation as San Antonio would ever want to find themselves in, and they passed with flying colors.

Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 26 points, making four free throws down the stretch to keep the Hornets at bay, while Tim Duncan added 16 points and 14 rebounds.  The Hornets looked done in the second half, finding themselves trailing by 17.  A furious rally, however, cut the lead down to just three points with under two minutes remaining.  The Hornets relied on the strategy that they had employed throughout the series, crowding and pressuring Duncan on the inside, and forcing the Spurs to beat them from long-range.  The strategy worked early in the series when the Spurs struggled from outside, but in the decisive Game 7, San Antonio hit 12 threes.

For the game, the Spurs did all the things that championship teams should do.  They hit 90% of their free throws, shot 42% from behind the arc, had 19 assists, outrebounded the Hornets by a significant margin, and held their opponents to just 23% from behind the arc.  The Spurs defense was not good enough to completely shut anyone down, just good enough to get the win.
Up next for San Antonio are the Lakers, holders of the best record in the West during the regular season.  LA will certainly be a strong test for the Spurs, being a veteran team themselves, perfectly capable of winning the championship themselves this year.  The Lakers’ trade for Pau Gasol late in the season has paid off tremendously, especially since they will be without the services of C, Andrew Bynum.

The series will get started Wednesday night, and should be a barn-burner.  Go Spurs!