San Antonio Duncan And The Fourth Quarter Of Doom

The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who was very moved by Ray Allen's love letter to his missing jump shot. Let's hope those two crazy kids can make it work. When he's not making Fruity Pebbles a part of his well-balanced and nutritious breakfast, he can be found tormenting the Trix rabbit at Basketbawful. Enjoy!

"I hate snakes, Jock! I HATE 'EM!" Just when it looked like the Spurs might actually escape with the golden idol, they got chased out of the Staples Center by a giant rolling boulder (the Lakers defense) and, of course, a hated snake (Kobe Bryant). So instead of the fortune and glory they were hoping for, all San Antonio Duncan and his team ended up with was an 89-85 loss, an 0-1 series deficit, and a bunch of half-naked natives chasing after them with spears and poisoned darts. Okay, okay. I made up that last part. But it would have been cool, right?

The (Forum) Blue and Gold looked more than a little rusty to start the game. Kobe scored only two points on 1-for-3 in the first half and, by the third quarter, the Lakers found themselves at the ass-end of a 20-point deficit. This led a certain Lakers fan to send me the following text messages in rapid succession: "Turns out Odom is still in Utah," then "Turns out Kobe is still in Utah," then "Kobe picked the worst time to go 2006 Game 7," and finally "Kobe lost this game by not setting an aggressive tone...I wish I could change the channel."

Turns out Mamba was just setting a deadly and cleverly-concealed booby trap...and the Spurs were the boobies. The league MVP exploded for 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting in the second half, disregarding and making a mockery of Bruce Bowen's attempts to guard him. And that, my friends, was apparently all part of the plan.

Said Mamba: "I know I can make that push and I knew once I did, I could get the game back under control, get it under 10 where we knew we could be in striking distance. In the first half, we were a little rusty, a little sluggish and a little tentative. Second half, it wasn't there."

Said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich: "Kobe, he was doing a trust-his-teammates thing in the first half. That's why he had 5 assists, and he was checking it all out to see where his territory was going to be. In the second half, he went to work."

The Spurs looked scared and helpless in the fourth quarter, during which they shot 3-for-21 from the field (including 1-for-9 from distance) and got outscored 24-13. I don't know if he was tired or what - it's not the years, honey; it's the mileage - but Tim Duncan, who was spectacular for most of the game (30 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocked shots), looked afraid to attack Pau Gasol's defense or even shoot wide-open jumpers. Tony Parker played well enough (18 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists), but he couldn't have penetrated the mysteries of the paint with a dozen Indiana Joneses on his side. And as for Shoeless Joe Ginobili, he literally threw the game away by shooting 3-for-13 and committing several crippling fourth-quarter turnovers.

But credit the Lakers, who behind Mamba, Gasol (19 points, 7 rebounds), Vlad the Radmanovic (10 points, 5-for-5) and Sasha Vujacic (10 points, 2-for-5 from downtown, killer defense on Ginobili) managed to shut down the defending champs after it looked like they were going to lose by 30. Ugh. Did I just say "Credit the Lakers"? I think I'm going to...blargh! Yup. I just thew up in my mouth a little.

Game 2 is Friday in L.A.