I believe in these guys. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
If you think I'm actually going to talk about the game last night, well, yeah, it's a recap. I have to. But there's a lot of other things I want to talk about, too, and I'm going to get it out my system here. First, the game. The Lakers starters played more minutes than our starters, and by our starters I mean George Hill, Gary Neal, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and San Antonio McDyess all got the night off. The Lakers beat the Spurs 102-93, in a game that means nothing for this season. The game was surprisingly much closer than the final score would indicate.If I told you that at one point our red-hot normally bench unit was starting and shooting a putrid 28% from the field, what would you guess the score was? I would have guessed blowout of astronomic proportions. But we were down by 4. Let me say that again: we were playing three (Steve Novak, Chris Quinn, Daniel Green) guys who have changed teams this year, two rookies (Neal, Splitter) that just came over from the Euro Leagues, a rookie that missed like 3/4 of the season due to injury (James Anderson), and everyone's all time favorite Spur/whipping boy Matt Bonner AND WE WERE STILL ONLY DOWN BY FOUR! That's pretty remarkable, especially given all of Kobe Bryant's talk about "needing to use the last two games to pick up the intensity." By the way, for those who say "Oh, the Lakers were just let down because they weren't playing against the GOATPUFF/El Contusion/Frenchie McWonderbutt" well, that's partially true. Fisher said as much going into halftime. But c'mon, Derek, you've been in the league long enough to know that Pop was absolutely going to rest at least two of our big three, and limit the minutes of the other one. No excuses.
But Kobe wanted it. You could see it in the way he demanded the ball everytime down the floor. You could see it in the way he yelled at everyone. You could see it in the way he got a technical and then threw a hissy fit on the sidelines. There were other Lakers who came to play, too- Bynum was playing hard. Pau Gasol was playing soft, but that's nothing abnormal. Crazy Pills Ron Artest was hounding Gary Neal all night. It's always tough to tell whether Odom is trying or not. Regardless of their effort level, though, they played savvy NBA vets, several of whom are at the All Star/All NBA level, and they barely escaped with a win.
While that doesn't say a lot about this game, it does say a lot about our guys- they came out and played like they believed they could win. And did I mention the roster that played? That's a big chunk of our future, right there. Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, George Hill and James Anderson- that's your next generation Spurs. Three years from now, when Duncan, Manu, and Bonner retire and Tony becomes more interested in french rap music as his career begins winding to an end, these are the Spurs that will be playing. You need to get used to them. I'd be surprised if any of those 5 go anywhere. You may even be able to include Danny Green and potentially Machine Gun Steve Novak in there too. The Spurs, more than almost any other team in the league, have prepared themselves for the future not just by limiting their expenses salary-cap wise but by drafting smart, and recognizing players that fit their system both in regards to skills and character. After Duncan and Kobe retire, (one of whom has represented the Western Conference in the NBA Championships every year since they entered the league) the West will finally be wide open for anyone to grab as the two most dominant players of their generation leave the game behind.
Seriously- look at the Western Conference. Look at the rosters of those teams. How many are positioned as well for the next decade than the Spurs? LA with 1/2 of Bynum, a couple more years of Gasol/Artest, and Shannon Brown? The Clippers have some pieces but the worst front office in the history of the NBA. Dallas is Dirk and he'll be gone about the same time as everyone else. Portland? Maybe. Phoenix? Not a chance.
Sacramento Anaheim? Nope. Golden State? Wildcard. I could go on, but I'll spare you and cut to the chase- the only teams in the West adequately prepared for the next 5-10 years in terms of talent are Denver (maybe) Memphis, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio. Really, look at the rosters and tell me you don't see what I'm seeing. Based on the current situation, assuming even minimal development from our young players, is it really unfathomable that we remain a 50 win team?
Anyway, back to Spurs/Lakers talk. Like I said, aside from showing that our bench is capable of rebounding and playing defense, this game didn't tell us much. It probably gave our guys some confidence, and I'm pretty sure that between us and LA we set a record for most offensive fouls in a single game. But in most situations, San Antonio and LA is the rivalry in the NBA. Either Kobe or Duncan has been in every final since 1998 (except 2006, ugh). The games usually feature the two best players of a generation and two of the top 10 all time (IMO). The playoff series are never easy, and the regular season games almost always look like playoff games. So with that in mind, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of the greatest moments in the rivalry, both for them and us. While surfin through the good ol' youtubes, I stumbled across this, and while I know these ads in general got mixed reviews, this one was appropriate both in the selection of who to match and what they talk about.
At times, the Spurs made it look easy this year. At times, not so much. Every game has been something to build on. The two legends' careers are winding down- I'm sure they both realize that not only are the competing with each other, but that they have other teams nipping at their heels, attempting to cause them to stumble so they can take their spot. They, no doubt, have that fear, that the dream could die, that everything was for naught. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the basketball gods, I'm going to point out what it says at the end of the commercial.
Lakers vs Spurs
Western Conference finals
I do not think it was coincidence that this was one of the things I found on my search. While there are obstacles in each teams way...it almost seems an inevitability at this point. I'm ready. Kobe is ready. Some of the other Lakers might be, too, but at the very least he is. Tim, Tony, Manu, and Pop are all ready. Each team is 8 wins away from making it happen, once again. We'll have homecourt and the deadliest 3 point snipers on the planet. They'll have (presumably) a lot of size. I can't wait for them to play again.
Honorable Mention: Richard Jefferson. The stats don't look great, but IMO you
REP'D THE TONE set the tone with your aggression and willingness to shoot on command. Kudos, RAGE.
Third: Tiago Splitter/DeJuan Blair. Great defense/rebounding, near-abysmal offense from our front court of the future. Hook shots aren't supposed to resemble catapults, Tiago. And Blair almost ended up getting blocked after he pump faked and it gave his defender time to recover. Both of you showed flashes of why I'm excited for the future.
Second: Chris Quinn. Two points, NINE assists off the bench, lead the team in +/-. Very nice game for the guy I enjoy watching least.
First: Awkward looking 3 point shooters Matt Bonner/Steve Novak. Bonner- 3-3 from 3 (how symmetrical), and damn nice step-back 3 that proved Manu's spirit is capable of leaving his body and inhabiting someone elses. Novak- 2-3 from downtown and with the absolute quickest release I have ever seen in my life. I think he starts his shooting motion before he actually gets the ball. In an empty gym with someone just passing him the ball, he could launch 50 shots in a minute, and make over half of them.
Sweet play of the night: The previously mentioned Bonner 3. Wish I could find the highlight of it.
Sweetest play of the night: Danny Green's one man fast break that made Shannon Brown and Kobe look like fools with their pants on the ground. Also, of course, omitted from every highlight reel I've seen unfortunately.