Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson knows what a Game 5 in a playoff series means.
“It’s not always been that way, but most likely,” Jackson said before Tuesday night’s Western Conference semifinal game against the Spurs, “the team that wins Game 5 is going to win the series.”
If Gregg Popovich’s young Spurs didn’t know that, they should now after they defeated the defending NBA champions 96-94 Tuesday night.
Tim Duncan had 27 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Spurs.
“Some of the young guys, no matter how much you tell them,” Popovich said, “they don’t really understand. We have those nights where nobody knows where the ball is going to go, who’s going to make what cut, if they heard what I said in the timeout, if they know what city they’re in.”
So Popovich made it clear before Game 5.
It’s the Spurs’ to take now as they dominated the three-time and vulnerable champion Los Angeles Lakers to take a 3-2 lead in the conference semifinals. Game 6 is Thursday night in Los Angeles.
If it goes anything like Game 5, the Lakers will be polishing their toenails instead of their trophies.
“We’re a great team when we play aggressive defense,” Popovich said.
They did Tuesday and they were.
They jumped on the Lakers, applying backcourt pressure and even getting a one-handed David Robinson lob dunk that looked like 1995 to sprint ahead 13-6.
The Spurs also boxed in Shaquille O’Neal and cut off Kobe Bryant’s driving lanes. That’s trouble for the Lakers with Rick Fox out and Devean George still slowed with a sprained ankle.
It was difficult as the Spurs finally got an aggressive Tony Parker, who slithered around for 10 first quarter points as the Spurs took a 29-18 lead. These games often come down to aggressive, hustle plays – and the Spurs made them, pushing the ball at the Lakers in transition and chasing the Lakers off their shots.
The Spurs controlled the backboards, outrebounding the Lakers 24-16 in the first half and shot 52.2 percent as the Lakers backed in on Duncan and left shooters open.
This time the Spurs hit those shots with Parker having 19 through three quarters and Bruce Bowen 11.
The Spurs held a 56-38 halftime lead, even expanding their lead when Duncan rested and surged ahead by 25 in the third quarter before a pair of late Bryant three-pointers pulled the Lakers within 80-64 going into the fourth quarter.