Can we talk? Hey, even Joan Rivers' famously artificial countenance would fall upon witnessing what's happened to the Lakers this year. The NBA's real flagship franchise has sunk to a comedy of errors to which the term "Clipper-esque" can't even do justice. Meanwhile, the rest of the league takes thinly-veiled delight in seeing Carlos Boozer running around like a newborn reindeer or Kobe Bryant bricking his way to 28 points on 26 shots (by the way, congratulations, Mr. Bryant! A well-deserved award has just come home to its rightful owner. John Havlicek must be relieved.) It wasn't always like this, you know. As recently as 2011, Phil Jackson was still around and the Lakeshow was still to be feared.
It's hard to appreciate the value of something when it's keeping you up at night. Kobe and the Lakers used to keep me up at night. And now that the field of play has become so tilted in favor of one side (hint: it's the Spurs' side), it seems almost cruel to say "Enjoy it while it lasts." But enjoy it we must. It's quite possible too much real and pixelated ink has been spilled talking about Manning v. Brady; but not nearly enough has been spilled chronicling the epic, nearly two-decade struggle that has been Timmy v. Kobe.
Just look at the numbers: Ten rings, six playoff meetings - with the (possibly final) score sitting at Kobe 18, Tim 12. Seventy-eight meetings total. Seventy-Eight! Almost a full regular season's worth of the Kobe Lakers taking on the Duncan Spurs. Their first meeting, 6,200 days ago, saw Nick Van Exel lead all players in scoring with 25. Kobe came off the bench with 17 (while contributing six of his 13,452 career misses); Duncan scored 18. The Spurs lost on the SEGABABA, 98-88.
Tonight, Tim Duncan scored his 25,000th point on a baby hook shot off a feed from Tony Parker. It happened on a Friday in November. There was no time out. No ovation. It was as Tim Duncanesque as a milestone could be. Kobe started 0-10 shooting, but did bait Danny Green into a foul with 1 second left in the first quarter and made all three free throws. Even now, it's strange to watch Spurs-Lakers, with its familiar colors and contrasts, and know that there's no Shaq coming off the bench, no Derek Fisher to make shots during crunch time or Pau Gasol to keep offensive possessions alive with timely rebounding and post passing. It's a relief, I guess, but also a kind of a cognitive dissonance, like watching Top Gun Val Kilmer and then seeing photos of present-day Kilmer. What you see can't be the truth, because it's not as real to you as your memories.
Pump fake, drive, break down defense, finish or pass it out for open three. This comprised the bulk of the Spurs offense tonight. No grinding down possessions or struggling over the arms of multiple seven footers. Oh, and Kawhi stripped Jeremy Lin on consecutive possessions. Not coincidentally, that's when the Lakers' deficit started to creep into double digits. Soon after, Pop decided to give the one-time Knicks phenom a break and sicced his attack dog on Kobe instead. Later, he put Green on Kobe. Frankly, if he'd put Mo'ne Davis on Kobe it may have worked tonight. Mamba wasn't striking.
As an aside, has anyone else tried imagining the 2003-2008 Spurs with Leonard on the roster? I've never taken drugs, and after imagining that I'm certain I'll never need to.
On an NBA night defined by huge wins and buzzer beaters, this one hardly rates. The Lakers never went away, and the Spurs missed just enough open shots to let them hang around. At one point, the Staples Center organ player banged out the theme from Harry Potter. LA went into halftime trailing for the 7th straight game, though their deficit was in the single digits late in the third quarter before the Spurs got serious and went on a 26-11 run. Everyone watched the Laker Girls, Manu snuck a pass through Jordan Hill's legs after everyone had already headed for the exits, and game #78 of the Duncan-Kobe rivalry passed into history, notable only for Timmy's 25,000 point and Kobe's horrendous shooting numbers. 2,600 days after their first meeting, this pair still has a way of dominating the story lines. It's hard to imagine a day when 21 and 24 are gone, but you know it's coming. Supplies are limited. If this rivalry were a Hawaiian shirt, it would be sitting on the summer clearance rack. Enjoy it now, while it lasts.
No one player really stands out (though you should check out Manu's +/- below) so I'm going to go with Pop. He managed minutes beautifully, kept the defensive pressure on Kobe, knowing that his teammates couldn't sustain a sufficient level of execution, and threw different looks at the porous Lakers defense. The Spurs should be well-paced for tomorrow night, when they face a Kings team that's looked more dangerous than anyone expected.
Kobe and Hill, who combined to shoot 5-27 in a contest whose final score is a good representation of the level of competitiveness.
Quote of the Night
"Oh, will you look inside, please?"
- Hubie Brown after Wes Johnson looked off Jordan Hill on a mismatch
By the Numbers
25,005 - Tim Duncan's career points, placing him 19th on the all-time list.
17 - The number of assists Tony and Manu dished out combined.
2-2-3-13-12 - The number of steals-blocks-fouls-minutes-points for Leonard (all in the first half.) He's obviously grown a lot as a scorer, but Kawhi's stat lines are still more fun to read backwards.
+30 - Manu tonight. Tony was second at +16.
- Kyle Anderson has a startlingly high release on his jump shot, but the polar caps could melt all the way down and refreeze during the time it takes him to wind that thing up
- In the second quarter, Kobe had Bonner guarding him and ... passed the ball to Jordan Hill. Three years ago, we'd call that "Kobe making some kind of commentary", now it's obvious that he's just tired. He's a tired guy who doesn't want to get up and let the dog out every time it whines.
- Some coaches are really good, but to look at them you'd swear they have no handle on what's going on because there's a perpetual look of incredulity on their faces. Rick Adelman and Stan Van Gundy are in the "Incredulous Coach" Hall of Fame. Byron Scott is the opposite. On the outside, he exudes calm and control, yet on the inside you know he's mentally trying to stop a train wreck that's already in progress.
- Danny Green got an open 3 off a steal of an inbounds pass. It didn't go in, but was emblematic of the Spurs' advantage in the craftiness index tonight.
- Early in the fourth quarter, the Spurs had four offensive boards on one possession, including two off of three point misses, including one Manu brick so horrendous he caught the carom flat-footed in the lane. Baynes finished off the possession with a flip shot in traffic.
- I've always admired the stage lighting in Staples Center. I wish SA had that, and its own version of Jack Nicholson.
- Sources of mental anguish that I'm now weirdly nostalgic for during Lakers games: A Kobe turnaround at the end of the shot clock; Shaq's foul count; going into halftime with a deficit; going into halftime with a lead; Rick Fox's hair; Sasha Vujacic's hair; any Spur at the free throw line in the fourth quarter; Phil Jackson getting thrown out of a game in which the Spurs have a bordering-on-comfortable lead, only for his team to respond with a 40-2 run; Pau Gasol flop sweat; Andrew Bynum trying just hard enough; Derek Fisher open in the corner. As Walter White said after it was all over: "I was alive."
- When they share the floor together, Tony and Cory create mismatches that wouldn't have happened last year. Because both of them have been hitting the three more consistently this year, it instantly opens up space all over the floor. I don't know if that's a combo you'd want to lean on for prolonged stretches, but it gives the defense a different look.
- Kawhi went to the locker room in the fourth quarter after being hit in his left eye by Kobe. It was only the second shot Kobe connected on the whole night.
- After the Lakers blew a 5 on 3 fast break in the second half, Kobe stopped looking like a tired guy who doesn't want to get up and let the dog out, and instead looked like Humphrey Bogart in a Farrelly Brothers movie.
- I'm pretty sure Hubie started sleeptalking around the 8:00 mark of the fourth quarter. Of a Bonner three: "That was nice." Of a Green three moments later: "There you go." Of the pregame salad: "Very leafy."
Tweets of the Night
Watch Tim Duncan join the illustrious 25,000-point club tonight against the Lakers: http://t.co/0PvqKar5iT pic.twitter.com/rjt5AkeXyK— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) November 15, 2014
Popovich definitely massaging the minutes for #Spurs, who play tomorrow night in Sacramento— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) November 15, 2014
It is now possible that Hubie Brown has yelled at the Lakers more than Byron has— netw3rk (@netw3rk) November 15, 2014
If you add in his playoff totals, Tim Duncan is only 11 points away from 30,000.— Aaron Preine PS (@DukeOfBexar) November 15, 2014
Hubie Brown is great. And if you've ever talked to him in person, you know that's exactly how he sounds all the time.— 48 Minutes of Hell (@48MoH) November 15, 2014