LOS ANGELES — The free giveaways made sense, handed off to all Lakers fans as they entered Staples Center. White towels to wave.
The Lakers completed the symbolism by waving the white flag, throwing in the towel, whatever metaphor you chose in a season-ending 103-82 playoff loss Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs.
Even the fourth-quarter “We Want Phil” chants weren’t very forceful as the Lakers got swept in the first round for the first time since 1967.
Their fans were probably out of energy. Or they had already left the building.
Since winning the second of back-to-back championships in 2010, the Lakers are 9-17 in the playoffs.
But a $100-million payroll wouldn’t go down quietly, it almost went without saying.
Dwight Howard was ejected after arguing a non-call, the Lakers trailing by the pitiful score of 55-34 with 9:51 left in the third quarter.
As he walked to the locker room, he briefly complained to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak about the referees or the Spurs’ hard fouls.
Then Kobe Bryant hobbled out from the trainer’s room to the second row of the Lakers’ bench, using crutches as fans cheered him. They needed something to enjoy.
The Lakers talked a big game beforehand, Coach Mike D’Antoni saying, “Let’s try to make a miracle. Why not?”
For one, they didn’t have the players to do it.
Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks and, of course, Bryant were all sidelined by injuries. It made a slogan from the pregame video montage a little hard to swallow: “One Goal: United . . . for glory . . . for victory.”
The Lakers couldn’t even finish the game with Howard, who had seven points, eight rebounds, five turnovers and no blocked shots in 21 minutes.
At least he didn’t yank off his jersey like Andrew Bynum in a similarly surprising playoff sweep two years ago.
“I’ve just got to do a better job trying to keep my cool,” Howard said. “Sometimes when things don’t go your way, you react the wrong way.”
Howard picked up his first technical foul for elbowing guard Corey Joseph after getting fouled down low in the first quarter.
Howard finally lashed out after slowly becoming more irritated with the Spurs’ fouling him so often.
He didn’t make the Spurs pay, making only three of nine free-throw attempts and 16 of 36 in the series (44.4%).
By halftime Sunday, the Lakers had only 34 points and somehow had committed 15 turnovers. The Spurs, meanwhile, had 52 points and only three turnovers.
The Lakers never led. In fact, of the 96 minutes played at Staples Center this series, they were ahead for only 2:09 during a meaningless first-quarter stretch in Game 3.
“Obviously it wasn’t a fair fight,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.
Pau Gasol had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in what may have been his final game with the Lakers. He was rewarded with a warm ovation from fans when he left the game with 3:08 to play.
He will make a weighty $19.3 million next season, making him the likely one to get traded or waived via the one-time amnesty provision.
Gasol said the Lakers “have the pieces” and he wanted to be “part of another championship here” but acknowledged his future was out of his control.
Andrew Goudelock, the Lakers’ only feel-good story in a 31-point loss in Game 3, had 14 points Sunday on seven-for-17 shooting.
Darius Morris, also a second-year guard, had eight points on three-for-12 shooting.
There won’t be anything close to a championship parade for these Lakers. Each player gets a playoff share from the NBA of about $12,000.
When they won it all back in 2009 and 2010, it was closer to $240,000 each.
It was a strange season in so many ways, starting with big acquisitions last summer, Nash and Howard, and continuing with big predictions from World Peace.
“We definitely want to beat the [Chicago] Bulls’ record and go 73-9,” he said last September.
They were 28 victories shy, didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last day of the regular season and were completely powerless against San Antonio as the line to the trainer’s room got steadily longer.
They started this season with a winless exhibition record (0-8) and ended with a winless playoff mark, the only symmetry in seven months of awkwardness, injuries and, ultimately, too many losses.
-Los Angeles Times