Well, that figures. Just a few days after I wrote an article talking about everyone else on the Spurs' bench, Manu reasserted his role as Captain of the Toes with his finest game of the season. The facts are these: Manu set a season high in points (20), made field goals (9), shooting percentage (90), steals (5), and blocked shots (2). It was a personal retrospective on a night the Staples Center - indeed, the entire NBA - observed the 10 year anniversary of Kobe scoring 81.
"Once the game started, they made sure we knew," Ginobili told Greg Beacham of NBA.com with a laugh. "It's incredible having even the stamina, not only the talent, to go at it and score 81 points."
Though his teammates managed to keep things marginally interesting throughout the second half of the Spurs 108-95 victory, Kobe wound up 76 points short of his effort from ten years ago. That night, the leading scorer among his teammates was Smush Parker with 13. Kobe got slightly more support last night against the Spurs, with five Lakers scoring in double-digits (led by D'Angelo Russell with 18, still inexplicably coming off the bench), but the game was once again emblematic of two franchises which have enjoyed different fortunes over the last decade.
LA's most recent title came in 2010, but for Laker fans, Kobe's 81 may well be the fresher memory. Besides Bryant, the only other holdover from that last title team is bench paperweight Metta World Peace. Neither Laker relic has contributed much to a season in which the team has yet to record its 10th win.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are closing in on win number 40. They've recorded a franchise-best 13 straight wins on the second night of a back to back. They're on pace to set the league record in point differential for a season (last night's 13 point win actually put a dent in their 14+ point average margin), they've won 20 of 21 games and are breathing down the neck of a Golden State Warriors team they will visit Monday night.
Unlike Kobe and the Lakers over the past half-decade, the Spurs have always prepared against obsolescence. They've planned for the day when their old stars could no longer carry the team. They've cultivated talent through the draft, and when that talent didn't quite pan out, they scouted and took on project players like All-Star starter and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. Their free agent signings, LaMarcus Aldridge notwithstanding, have consisted largely of unique pieces whom other teams saw no value in signing. Those pieces now make up valuable parts of the starting rotation (Danny Green) and the best bench in the league (Boris Diaw, Jonathon Simmons and Boban Marjanovic).
While the Spurs were doing that, the Lakers were acquiring splashy pieces like Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and allocating huge chunks of their cap space to an increasingly ineffective Kobe Bryant. With all the components of past title chases long gone, the mutual loyalty between the Lakers and their star has cost both sides, and is currently inhibiting the growth of LA's promising young talent.
The Spurs have shown how it's possible to groom young talent while remaining loyal to the past. There is no strife between the old and new factions of the roster. There is simply an accumulated expertise, a collective effort to win. The result is continued title aspirations a decade after observers started pronouncing the Spurs too old to keep competing. So many years later, the Spurs still make excellence look routine by demonstrating an efficient nightly competitiveness, rather than the nightly reminiscing that Kobe has forced himself and the Lakers to live through this season.
Bryant's time in the NBA is coming to a close, but on nights like Friday you can almost imagine Manu Ginobili (who is more than a year older than Kobe) carrying on another ten years. His endurance isn't just due to personal will; it's a product of a system that looks ahead to the future. The Spurs are a team with too much left to accomplish to dwell on what's happened in the past.
30 - The number of double-digit wins by the Spurs this year (3 others were by 8 or 9 points).
38-6 - It's the best start in franchise history, which means we can finally move on from comparing this team to the 2010-11 team.
221 - The Cavaliers fired David Blatt Friday and replaced him with Tyronn Lue. It was the 221st head coaching change in the NBA since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach in the fall of 1996.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Monday's Spurs-Warriors game: pic.twitter.com/EKzukd77HQ— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) January 23, 2016
Respect pic.twitter.com/5R8Yy0XLGM— NBA.com (@NBAcom) January 23, 2016