The Admiral's mental error may have sunk Spurs' hopes
Updated: Tuesday May 22, 2001 8:59 PM
By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated
SAN ANTONIO -- As far as disasters go, it wasn't on par with, say, the Titanic or the Exxon Valdez.
But to hear Spurs center and former Navy lieutenant David Robinson tell it, his silly reach-in foul on Horace Grant -- not Phil Jackson's ejection -- was the turning point in his team's devastating Game 2 loss Monday night to the Lakers.
"Whoo. That ranks as one of the dumbest things I've ever done," a glum Robinson said. "Normally I don't spend a lot of time talking to the refs. I can't do things like that. I feel like it changed the momentum of the game."
Robinson's rare mental mistake occurred with 10:52 left in the third quarter and the Spurs holding a 47-40 lead. After being whistled for a foul on Shaquille O'Neal underneath, he began to plead his case with an official when he suddenly realized the Lakers had inbounded the ball.
Trying to get back in the play, he got his arm tangled up with Grant's and was quickly whistled for his fourth foul.
That's two fouls in one second. From a 12-year veteran with a mathematics degree from the U.S. Naval Academy who plays the saxophone, scored a 1,320 on the SAT and can solve a Rubik's Cube.
Robinson spent the rest of the third quarter on the bench, watching as the Lakers -- buoyed also by Jackson's ejection -- stormed back into the game.
With Shaq suddenly free to bang his way inside against 6-foot-7 Spurs reserve Malik Rose, the Lakers went off on a 17-6 run that gave L.A. its first lead at 64-63.
"We had the flow of the game going the way we wanted, playing great defense in the first half, holding them under 40 points," said Robinson, who finished with just seven points and nine rebounds.
"The key is, I've got to be on the floor to help Tim [Duncan]. Malik did great job battling Shaq, getting boards, but it changes the way we look."
The Spurs thought they had learned this lesson in Game 1, when the Lakers turned the game around after the Admiral went to the bench for his usual rest late in the first quarter. He finished that game with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it was clear he needed to be on the court more in Game 2. Mission accomplished, until Robinson developed his brain cramp.
"David got only 27 minutes tonight, and we've got to keep him on the floor," said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who altered his usual strategy by returning Robinson to the lineup at the start of the second quarter.
"He does so much for us. You've got to have your best players out there," Popovich said.
The Lakers, of course, would prefer to see the Twin Towers become the Lone Tower. Without Robinson's 7-foot presence to clog up the middle, O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have been able to get to the basket easier on offense while double-teaming Duncan at the other end with impunity.
"Defensively, we're able to do more things when it's just the one big guy out there," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "And offensively, we can attack the basket more because [Duncan] becomes their only shot-blocker."
Robinson, a true officer and gentleman who took full blame for his Game 2 error, admits he can't afford to miss any more court time.
"Every time I go to the bench, I look up and we're giving up easy layups," he said. "That's what we've got to cut out."
Smart man. Dumb play. And now, partly as a result, the Spurs' title hopes are sinking fast.