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Spurs 112, Lakers 91: April 17, 2012
Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol of Spain goes for a shot as San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner (15) defends during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) dunks as San Antonio Spurs’ Tiago Splitter (22) looks on during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9), of France, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol (16) of Spain defends during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) drives as teammate Tiago Splitter (22) sets a pick on Los Angeles Lakers’ Ramon Sessions (7) during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) watches the ball as San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan, left, and Tony Parker (9) defend during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 112-91. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) goes for a layup as Los Angeles Lakers’ Ramon Sessions defends during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 112-91. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, center, reacts as Ramon Sessions, left, looks on from the bench as the San Antonio Spurs score during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 112-91. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9), of France, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers’ Josh McRoberts defends during the second half of their NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 112-91. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) (AP)
By Jeff McDonald
LOS ANGELES — Officially, the decision was reached at 30,000 feet in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, somewhere over the midsection of California.
Not long after rolling to a blowout win at Golden State on Monday night, the Spurs boarded their charter flight bound for Los Angeles, for the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back, with much of the basketball-playing wondering how many league-approved sport coats had been packed in the cargo hold.
Would Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili suit up for the rematch against the Lakers? Or would coach Gregg Popovich again choose scoring rest for his veterans over a scoring points a national popularity contest?
“For us, it was not even a question,” Parker said after the Spurs unloaded both barrels on the Lakers in a 112-91 victory at the Staples Center.
The Spurs did not necessarily need Tuesday’s game. But after what had happened six days earlier, when the Lakers marched into the ATT Center with Kobe Bryant in street clothes and punked them 98-84, they certainly wanted it.
By the time the Spurs landed in LA., it was official. Everyone was in.
“There was never any doubt,” Ginobili said.
Behind 29 points and 13 assists from Parker, and a productive all-around night from their’ Big Three, the Spurs (44-16) reasserted their Western Conference dominance in front of a sold-out, celebrity laden crowd and a national television audience
The victory kept the Spurs in first place in the West, narrowly ahead of Oklahoma City, and ensured them no worse of a No. 2 seed. Tonight in Sacramento, they have an opportunity to sweep a second set of three games in three nights.
More than anything, Tuesday’s runaway helped soothe the Spurs’ psyche still stinging from a lopsided loss in San Antonio.
“We needed to come here and feel good about ourselves and show we are better than that,” Ginobili said. “We needed to play better.”
After going 2-for-12 in the first meeting, Parker led the Spurs’ victory parade Tuesday. He had his hands all over the 18-0 run that broke the game open in the second quarter, and later added a highlight reel undressing of Steve Blake.
Popovich said he didn’t bring up last Wednesday’s mugging in San Antonio before he game. He didn’t have to.
“We were very motivated,” Parker said. “Obviously, we were not happy with our performance in our place. We wanted to get it back.”
For Parker, redemption came in heaping spoonfuls. He hit 14 of his 20 shots, and came within one point of his highest-scoring career game against the Lakers — set in Game 2 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals.
“I played one of my worst games (in the first meeting),” Parker said. “I was very motivated. I wanted to come back strong and try to help my team win.”
Bryant was again sidelined in the rematch, missing his sixth consecutive game with a sore shin. For the Lakers, who tumbled to 39-23, that was about all that stayed the same.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum had been a one-man wrecking ball in the first meeting, posting 16 points and grabbing 30 rebounds to set a Spurs all-time opponent record.
It was part of a whopping 60-33 rebounding edge for the Lakers that night, and prompted what happened Tuesday.
Then, Popovich replaced his smallest frontcourt player (the 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair) with one of his tallest. In part to counter the Lakers’ frontline tandem of Bynum and Pau Gasol, Popovich started Tiago Splitter next to Duncan for the first time.
It was a look the Popovich had used for all of 118 minutes this season, though Duncan and Splitter played extensively together during the lockout-lengthened summer.
“I’m probably a lot more comfortable with it than the minutes show,” said Duncan, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Splitter’s presence next to Duncan on Tuesday was mostly negligible. Plagued by foul trouble, he logged just five points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
The first play of the game did not look promising for the Spurs, when Gasol hit Bynum on a lob over the top of the Spurs’ supersized defense.
But Duncan handled Bynum the rest of the way, and the Spurs won the battle on the glass. Bynum ended with a manageable 21 points and seven rebounds.
Ginobili joined Parker and Duncan in double figures with 15, as the Big Three combined for 63 points.
None of the above logged more than 15 minutes in a 21-point win a night earlier at Golden State, making Popovich’s decision to play them against the Lakers more comfortable.
“If last night everybody had played 40 minutes,” Popovich said, “the decision might have been different.”
Twice this season, Popovich has rested Duncan, Parker and Ginobili — his three top scorers — on the same night.
Given the stage, and the stakes, the Big Three certainly wanted to play in L.A. Those surprised with Popovich’s acquiescence do not fully understand the Spurs’ dynamic.
It is true that Popovich’s locker room is no democracy. But he rules as a benevolent dictator, open to suggestions.
“I don’t think you can be too pedantic and say whatever you want and think it’s going to fly,” Popovich said. “It’s a players’ league. You need to have the players’ respect. Their opinions, depending on who they are, are often times important and could lead you in a direction that’s beneficial to your team.”
Ginobili estimates he’s been on the receiving end of about 100 of those conversations throughout his career. He says he can usually read Popovich’s decision by the look on his face.
There was no such discussion Tuesday. The decision was a no-brainer.
The Spurs might rest tonight in Sacramento. In Los Angeles, with a game to win and redemption in store, the Spurs brought everyone to the fight.