“Obviously, it wasn’t a fair fight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “When you’re a competitor, you want to compete on an even basis, and the Lakers weren’t able to do that. … Even though it wasn’t a fair fight, we still want to win the series, and I’m glad we did. Our focus was great.”
The match-up between the Spurs and Lakers appeared unfair on paper and that was even more evident after the two teams took the floor. The Lakers only had nine players available Sunday night to play. They were without Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.
However, Dwight Howard compounded the situation by only scoring seven points before he was ejected in the third quarter for arguing with an official and receiving his second technical. His first technical came with under a minute remaining in the first quarter on Sunday for elbowing Spurs guard Cory Joseph.
“It’s over with now,” Howard said of his ejection. “I just got to do a better job of trying to keep my cool. It’s very tough to be out there playing. It’s an emotional game, you don’t want to lose, and sometimes when things don’t go your way, sometimes you react the wrong way. I just got to keep my cool.”
Lakers great Magic Johnson criticized Howard on Twitter. He tweeted that Howard, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, let his teammates and the fans down.
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With or without Howard, the Spurs still had their way with the Lakers. Tony Parker scored 23 points and Tim Duncan had 11 points and six rebounds. The bench for the Spurs contributed as well, with Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair adding 13 points apiece.
The only meaningful cheer from the Lakers fanbase came in the third quarter when Bryant came out on crutches to sit with the team, but his presence did little to spark life into the team.
“I’m proud of them, because they fought,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was kind of a year that was all upside-down, but I appreciate the effort to get us into the playoffs. We just didn’t have it.”
The Spurs will now face the winner of Denver’s series with Golden State in the second round.