Game rewind: Fiesta time means peaking for playoffs

It’s typically a time of river parades, gorditas, street festivals and the NBA playoffs.

Fiesta in San Antonio is the city’s biggest party of the year. And it typically coincides with the start of the NBA’s second season.

But this season’s lockout has delayed the start of the playoffs by a week. It means that Fiesta is starting without meaningful Spurs games for a change — for at least a week.

The Spurs’ 121-97 beatdown of the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night ranked as one of their most impressive victories of the season. But with four games remaining, the start of the playoffs is still approaching. 

When asked if he almost wished he could start the playoffs immediately, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sounded like he wanted to squeeze in all of the extra teaching time he could before the playoffs begin next weekend.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Popovich said. “But the playoffs are a situation where you have to do it night after night for awhile. This is just a small step.”

Spurs guard Tony Parker also isn’t looking ahead to the playoffs with four regular-season games still remaining in the season.

“We don’t really think about that,” Parker said. “It’s been a crazy season and we’re all used to it now. I think Pop did a great job all season long to manage everybody’s minutes. We have another four games and then the fun starts.”

The Spurs finish the regular season next Thursday at Golden State, ending a back-to-back preceded by a game at Phoenix the previous night.

ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said during Friday’s broadcast that he expected the Spurs to begin their first round with a playoff game on Saturday, April 28.

Popovich has been reminding anybody who would listen about his team’s difficult closing schedule. And when asked before the game when he would like to start the playoffs, he said he would like to start the playoffs as late as any team.

“I’m going to guess that’s not a factor in the playoff scheduling. It  doesn’t matter what I think,” Popovich said. “I’d like to play on Monday.”

And considering the compressed time of  the lockout season, Popovich could care less if the playoffs start after the last cascarone is smashed in the Alamo City.

There’s still a few regular season games left. And here’s a look at some of the highlights of the Spurs’ impressive victory over the Lakers.

The game, simply stated:  A vintage performance from Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili powered the Spurs past the Lakers for the second time in four nights, even with the return of Kobe Bryant to the Lakers’ lineup.

Early strong start: After spotting the Lakers an early lead, the Spurs employed a 13-4 run to give them a 15-7 lead capped by a 3-pointer by Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs maintained the lead throughout the rest of the first quarter, taking their largest early lead at 32-25 on Ginobili’s 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left. But Andrew Bynum’s quick basket at the buzzer pulled the Lakers within 32-25 at the break.

Taking the lead for good: Bryant’s two foul shots provided the Lakers with a 44-42 lead with 4:51 left in the first half. From there, the Spurs ran off 10 unanswered points  on a turnaround jumper by Duncan, another 3-pointer by Leonard, a fastbreak layup by Boris Diaw and a 3-pointer from Ginobili that gave them a 52-44 lead with 2:58 left. From there, the Spurs never trailed.

The dagger: After Bryant’s jumper pulled the Lakers within 56-54 with 11:37 left in the third quarter, the Spurs put the game away with a 27-11 spurt in the next eight minutes. The run was kick-started by three-point plays from Duncan and Danny Green and also included nine points from Parker. Ginobili’s jumper and two foul shots gave the Spurs an 83-65 lead with 3:30 left. The Lakers never came within 14 points during the rest of the game.  

Player of the game I: Duncan was aggressive early as he hit six of eight shots in the first quarter. That big start helped propel him to a game-high 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. And he didn’t play in the fourth quarter after logging 26:03 of playing time.

Player of the game II: Parker outplayed Ramon Sessions for the second game as he notched 20 points and 10 assists in 27:46. Parker was particularly strong in the third-quarter rush that helped put the game away, hitting four of five shots in the quarter before sitting for the rest of the game.

Player of the game III: Ginobili is starting to look more like the game-changing performer he’s been throughout his career. Whether making bullet passes into traffic, hitting 3-pointers or being a defensive pest, Ginobili had a big night with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Unsung hero: Boris Diaw provided a lift both offensively and defensively. He produced eight points and five rebounds and helped handcuff Pau Gasol in a strong, underrated defensive effort that helped the Spurs take control in the third quarter.

Attendance: The Spurs might have been away for the last six days, but another sellout crowd of 18,581 turned out Friday night at the ATT Center for the first of three games in the regular season’s final homestand. It was the Spurs’ 25th capacity crowd in 31 home games this season, including 22 of their last 24 home dates and their 18th in a row. The last non-capacity home game came Feb. 2 against New Orleans.

Did you notice I: Bryant made one allowance to his bruised shin as he wore a heavy black sock over his lower left leg, with a padded sleeve protecting the injured area of his bruised shin. And he looked like he had missed shooting during his recent injury as he shot on both of the Lakers’ first two possessions, scoring a three-point play on the first play and missing a 3-pointer on the next one. He finished with a team-high 18 points, including 11 in the third quarter.

Did you notice II: After struggling in containing Andrew Bynum in the first game against the Lakers, DeJuan Blair hardly played during the next two games against them. Blair was benched in the Spurs’ victory in Los Angeles Tuesday night as the only Spur who failed to see action. And he logged 7:03 against them Friday night — all in the fourth quarter when the game was long settled.

Stat of the game I: The Spurs hit a season-best 61.0 percent from the field. It ranked as one of the top 10 shooting efforts of the Popovich coaching tenure and the Spurs’ highest field-goal percentage since hitting 64.3 percent in a victory over Detroit on March 9, 2011.

Stat of the game II: After notching a career-best 30 rebounds against the Spurs on April 11, Andrew Bynum produced nine total rebounds in the next two games against the Spurs in a combined 62:25. 

Stat of the game III: The Spurs hung 121 points on the Lakers after scoring 127 points against Sacramento on Wednesday. The 248 combined points in the two games are the best of the season in back-to-back contests.

Stat of the game IV: Duncan (21 points), Ginobili (20 points) and Parker (20 points) all scored at least 20 points in the same game for the first time since April 1, 2011. In that game, Parker scored 31 and Ginobili and Duncan added 23 points apiece in a 119-114 overtime loss at Houston.  

Stat of the game V: The victory, along with Oklahoma City’s 103-92 victory at Sacramento, kept the Spurs (46-16) a half-game ahead of the Thunder (46-17) for the best record in the Western Conference. The Spurs have four games remaining and the Thunder have three. The Spurs already have clinched the tiebreaker between them after winning the regular season series, meaning that Oklahoma City must finish ahead of them to claim the top playoff seed. The Spurs’ magic number to clinch the title is three. Any combination of three Spurs’ victories or Thunder losses will seal the No. 1 seed in the West for the Spurs.

Stat of the game VI: The Spurs have won six straight games, 20 of their last 23 games and an NBA-best 34 triumphs in their last 41 games.

Stat of the game VII: The Spurs shot 94.4 percent from the foul line, their second-highest free throw percentage of the season.  They hit 15 of 15 shots for 100 percent against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 28.

Stat of the game VIII: The victory over the Lakers snapped a three-game losing streak to them in the ATT Center.

Weird stat of the night I: The Spurs shot a season-best 61 percent against the Lakers on Friday after shooting 58.8 percent against Sacramento on Wednesday and 59.5 percent on Tuesday against the Lakers. It’s the first time since 1985-86 the Spurs have hit better than 58 percent in three consecutive games.

Weird stat of the night II: In all three games in the series against the Lakers this season, there was a margin of at least 26 points in each game. The Lakers had a 26-point margin in their first game and the Spurs had margins of 27 points in the second game at Los Angeles and 26 points Friday night.

Weird stat of the night III: The Spurs had a 22-4 edge in fastbreak points. It marked the third time in the last five games the Spurs notched at least 20 fastbreak points and 19 in another. In the previous 57 games this season, the Spurs topped 20 fastbreak points four times.  And in their last three games, the Spurs have converted 25 of 31 fastbreak opportunities.

Weird stat of the night IV: The Spurs’ bench had another big night with a 60-36 edge over the Lakers’ bench. In the three games against them this season, the Spurs bench outscored the Lakers’ bench by a combined margin of 147-85 — an average of 20.7 points per game.  

Weird stat of the night V: The Spurs notched a 24-point victory over the Lakers after beating them by 21 points on Tuesday. It marked the second time in four nights they recorded the Lakers’ worst defeat of the season.

Weird stat of the night VI: With 121 points, the Spurs were tied for their fifth-highest scoring effort of the season. Of their seven games with at least 120 points this season, five have come in April.

Weird stat of the night VII: With the victory, the Spurs claimed their 44th straight home victory when ahead at the half. The last time the Spurs lost a game while leading at the half came on Nov. 26, 2010, when they lost to Dallas after nursing a two-point halftime advantage in an eventual 103-94 defeat.

Not a good sign: Very little went wrong for the Spurs, who did struggle a tad in the second quarter when they shot 44.4 percent from the field and failed to score a second-chance point.

Best plus/minus scores: Duncan was plus-26, Parker was plus-24 and Green was plus-20.

Worst plus/minus scores: Gary Neal was minus-4, Stephen Jackson was minus-2 and Matt Bonner was minus-1.

Quote of the game: “We’re the same old guys. We don’t get overly confident or overly under confident, it’s just another game and anything can happen. You don’t get too excited about a win at this point. You get excited about wins in the playoffs,” Popovich, on the importance of beating the Lakers twice after losing to them in convincing fashion last week.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will finish their season with approaching home games Sunday against Cleveland and Monday against Portland before a road back-to-back Wednesday at Phoenix and Thursday at Golden State. The Lakers have remaining games Sunday at home against Oklahoma City and Thursday at Sacramento.

Injuries: Neither team had injuries to report.

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