Jackson had to stop Spurs' roll players

Times Staff Writer

The first edge goes to the Lakers' Phil Jackson in his heavyweight coaching matchup against San Antonio's Gregg Popovich after the Lakers defeated San Antonio, 89-85, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Now it's Popovich's turn to make an adjustment for tonight's Game 2.

Although the Lakers rallied from a 20-point deficit Wednesday, the Spurs' Tony Parker had plenty of success breaking down Jackson's half-court defense with high, extended pick-and-roll plays.

Parker -- usually working from the left side of the court above the three-point line with San Antonio big man Tim Duncan and, at times, Fabricio Oberto -- took advantage of his quickness and superior ballhandling skills to lead to numerous open baskets for San Antonio.

With Duncan setting firm screens outside the arc, Parker's first goal was to penetrate into the lane for open shots against the Lakers' bigger but slower interior defenders.

But Parker's most effective option in Game 1 was passing to Duncan, who either drove toward the basket or stepped back for an open jump shot. Duncan finished with 30 points and 18 rebounds.

The Lakers' Pau Gasol was often caught defending Duncan on this pick-and-roll play and struggled to find the right distance for stopping the move.

This became a problem whenever the Lakers' Derek Fisher fought his way over Duncan's screen to defend Parker. No matter how hard Fisher tried, Parker normally was a step in front, which made Gasol's defensive indecisiveness even more of an issue.

That's how the Spurs raced out to a 65-45 lead early in the third quarter with Duncan and Parker combining for the majority of San Antonio's points.

The Spurs' pick-and-roll success helped force Jackson into making the best coaching move of Game 1.

He inserted backup guard Sasha Vujacic and assigned him to defend Manu Ginobili, the Spurs' top three-point threat. Vujacic's quickness enabled the Lakers to gamble more on defense and defend Parker's screen-and-roll play with increased aggressiveness.

This combination defense helped spark the Lakers' comeback.

When Parker tried to use a high screen, he often found his path blocked as the Lakers did a better job of keeping their hands up and moving their feet on defense down the stretch.

Easy plays made by the Spurs suddenly turned into turnovers or forced shots as Vujacic proved to be a difference maker because he helped collapse into the middle on defense and was still able to stay close to Ginobili, who had an off night shooting.

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Spurs had gone away from their extended pick-and-roll plays with Parker in favor of a dribble-handoff weave offense or post-ups with Duncan.

Summary: Gasol gained confidence against Duncan the more he defended him, and that may allow the Lakers to throw even more defensive twists at the Spurs' pick-and-roll plays tonight.

It's up to Popovich to make adjustments for San Antonio's up-and-down offense, which scored only 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Don't be surprised to see the Spurs counter the Lakers' scrambling pick-and-roll defensive schemes with extra passes to get open perimeter shots for Ginobili, Michael Finley, Ime Udoka and even Robert Horry.



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