Not only did Manu Ginobili and the San Antonio Spurs hand the Los Angeles Lakers a thorough Game 1 defeat, they also showed the embarrassingly poor L.A. reserves what real bench production looks like.
The Spurs piled up a 40-10 advantage in bench points en route to a comfortable 91-79 victory, and Ginobili was a big reason for the easy win.
The disparity in production between the two teams' benches shouldn't be a surprise. San Antonio ranked fifth in the NBA in bench scoring during the regular season, averaging a solid 37.9 points per game. The Lakers subs, on the other hand, put up just 26.1 points per game.
That figure ranked second-to-last in the league, ahead of only the one posted by the Portland Trail Blazers' historically inept reserves.
After Kobe Bryant went down with two games remaining in the regular season, the Lakers offense seemed to enjoy something of a rebirth. The ball was moving, the starters were shooting confidently and Pau Gasol was getting everyone involved.
But even during that brief period of offensive freedom, the bench failed to produce. In their final two games of the year, L.A.'s reserves averaged just 20 points per game as a group. It's safe to say that one of the Lakers' greatest regular-season weaknesses has followed them into the playoffs.
Antawn Jamison couldn't get anything going, despite a somewhat creative attempt by Mike D'Antoni to feed him the ball in the post. But the Spurs hardly seemed concerned with that unusual move, often leaving point guard Cory Joseph alone on the bigger Jamison down low. The veteran forward led L.A.'s reserves with just six points.
Jodie Meeks was the only other bench player to score for L.A., amassing four points before leaving for good with a sprained left ankle.
Earl Clark and Darius Morris both failed to impact the game, going scoreless in a combined 20 minutes.
In contrast, the Spurs got 40 points from their reserves as Ginobili led the way. His plus-minus of plus-19 not only led all bench players, it also topped every Spur in the starting lineup. With a few herky-jerky drives, a couple of corner threes and excellent swing passes around the perimeter, Ginobili looked very much like his old self amid the ongoing concern with his bad hamstring.
Matt Bonner chipped in a surprising 10 points that included more than one foray into the lane—an unusual sight for the spot-up shooter. In addition, Nando De Colo, Gary Neal and Joseph all found their way into the scoring column, and San Antonio didn't have to play any of its starters for long stretches. Tony Parker led the Spurs with just 37 minutes on the night.
Meanwhile, L.A. leaned heavily on its fragile first unit, getting 41 minutes from Dwight Howard and 43 from Gasol. A shallow bench has far-reaching implications. In the Lakers' case, the heavier burden on the starters is especially problematic, as Gasol and Howard have both spent much of the season fighting through various aches and pains.
In the near term, the Lakers' poor bench is an issue because the team's offense is far too predictable without some semblance of perimeter shooting. Jamison, Meeks and even Clark have to provide some spacing to give the Lakers bigs enough room to operate inside.
Looking down the line, the Lakers stars are sure to wear down under the heavy minutes and increased defensive attention that will result from such substandard bench production.
L.A.'s offense is already predictable without Bryant. If the bench can't knock down a shot or two, it'll be predictable and woefully ineffective.
Ultimately, San Antonio coasted to a win behind excellent bench production. If the Lakers can't find a way to get something out of their own reserves, this series is going to be a short one.