Recently, the good folks at ESPN.com put together a terrific oral history of Kobe Bryant's 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors for the tenth anniversary of its occurrence, on Jan. 22, 2006. Which made me wonder where the oral history was for the fifteenth anniversary of Tim Duncan's career-high 53 points against the Mavericks on Dec. 26, 2001? Naturally, I had to put on my reporting hat and fill the void.
(I advise you to read the Kobe thing first if you can. It's long, but good, and some of the following jokes will make more sense if you've read it.)
Part 1 of the imaginary oral history is here.
Act III: "It all started out so well..."
Bruce Bowen, Spurs forward, 2000-2009: I knew we'd come out with the right frame of mind after losing to Milwaukee the game before, especially against Dallas. The rivalry with them was just getting started, but we all already hated Cuban. Fans are fans and they can say what they want but he's an owner and we felt he was being disrespectful and shouting inappropriate stuff at us, that he wasn't carrying himself the way someone in his position should. Our owner Peter would never act that way and I guarantee you that Pop wouldn't work for him if he did, not for all the money in the world. Pop used to refer to Cubes as "The frat boy," maybe with a couple of adjectives thrown in for good measure.
Peter Holt: As you know, Pop has many, many friends throughout the league. He's very close with "Nellie," whom he worked with at Golden State for a couple of years before he re-joined us. He'd always be needling Nellie [about Cuban], teasing him, "How can you work for that jackass?" And Nellie would always make that money sign like that "Johnny Football" kid makes with his hand and yell back, "Do you know how much that dumb m----------- is paying me?"
David Robinson, Spurs center, 1989-2003: The thing I remember from that game is that it all started out so well... we were sharp defensively and they turned it over three straight possessions to begin the game. Tony hit a three for us, Tim scored a couple of easy buckets, they had another turnover in there and we were up early. We would have had a nice lead there but Steve Smith missed a couple of open ones.
Danny Ferry: Spurs forward, 2000-2003: Slowly but surely, you could tell that Pop was starting to be more open-minded and less regimented, less robotic. Our offense was so basic. It was like a high-school offense. People knew what we were going to do and Pop didn't care. His thing was, if we executed it right, they couldn't stop it. And we had Timmy and not much else going on, so that made sense in a way. But I certainly understood the argument that we were built for the regular season. The Lakers had too much talent for us and the Kings had too much skill. I think eventually Pop understood we needed to get faster and more creative and to improvise more, so they drafted Tony and let him start right away and took a chance with [Stephen] Jack[son] too.
Stephen Jackson, Spurs guard, 2001-2003, 2012-2013: I don't remember much from those first couple of years. I had some money in my pocket for the first time and I guess you could say I was enjoying my time in the NBA. I'll tell you this much... Tim was the first guy I ever played with who humbled me. Like I played with some cats in New Jersey who were good, Stephon Marbury, Kenyon Martin, but I didn't really think they were any better than me. I thought it was just all politics and money that made people see them like that. But then I got to San Antonio and just playing pickup games with Tim... it opened my eyes. I thought I was a total bad-ass, and like in five minutes I realized, "This guy is just so much better than me." He and Pop both made me work harder, be more professional...but I still had a lot of fun.
Mike Budenholzer: "Jack" took a few years off Pop's life and mine too, probably. And we had a French teenager starting at point guard. If you told me back in 1999 when we were celebrating [winning the championship] that in two years our backcourt would be a guy who got kicked off the Nets for partying too hard and a kid from Paris, and that our backup plan would be some skinny S.O.B. from Argentina, I'd have thought you were on something a lot stronger than champagne.
Gregg Popovich: You know how coaches are. Practice makes perfect. Tony and "Jack" gave me a year to stretch my boundaries and my patience and that sort of thing so that I could brace myself for the real maniac who'd enter my life a year later and still hasn't left.
Manu Ginobili, Spurs guard, 2002-present: I wasn't there for that game, I was still in Italy back then, but I was starting to pay more attention to the Spurs little by little, and R.C. had visited me earlier that year. The NBA was never my dream as a kid. It was impossible, so far from reality. I was just hoping to be a pro in Argentina and then maybe Europe if I was lucky. Even when the Spurs drafted me [in 1999] I didn't think much of it. I knew I wasn't good enough. I wasn't Tony or Dirk who could play [at that level] at 19, 20, and I was already 22 when they picked me. But then I started getting better little by little, playing in international tournaments, and doing good in Italy, helping my teams a lot, getting more confident. When I saw that the Spurs were starting Tony and starting Steve Smith, who was like 32, I thought to myself, "Eh, maybe. Maybe."
Steve Smith, Spurs guard, 2001-2003: Manu said that? That bald, big-nosed mothe-
The good start didn't last. After Dallas began the game sloppily, they settled into a groove midway through the quarter and hit seven straight shots, with just one turnover by Juwan Howard in that stretch. Meanwhile, the Spurs went cold, going without a field goal for 7:22, scoring only on seven free-throws in that time. The Mavs wrested control with a 14-2 run, and a three-pointer from Tim Hardaway in the closing seconds gave Dallas a 27-23 lead after one.
Mike Brown: If you were watching the game with today's sensibilities you would shake your head at Dallas' offense. They were mostly a jump-shooting team, but not from three. They shot those long twos that are the big no-nos for every team these days. I was on charting duty those days and I had them for eight [made] long-twos in the first quarter alone. Mostly they were taking the shots we wanted them to take. I don't remember Pop being too upset, actually.
Gregg Popovich: I was probably too busy yelling at Tony to notice how our defense was playing.
Tony Parker: I remember TD passed it to me out of a double team and I made a three-pointer from the wing and I think he had all the rest of our points in the quarter. Pop was yelling at me during the time outs about my defense.
Steve Nash, Mavericks guard, 1998-2004: I always enjoyed my battles against Tony. We're friends and I think we brought the best out of each other. Unfortunately for me, he improved quite a bit from those days. We could hear Pop giving it to him all the way from our huddle. You kind of wanted to go over and ask him to quiet down so we could hear Nellie draw up a play, but at the same time you figured if he's upset then we must be doing pretty well.
Tim Duncan: We had a couple years there where our timeouts were 11 guys listening to Tony get yelled at for like one minute, fifty-eight seconds and then Pop ending it with "we're gonna run 'four-down.' I can't believe some people think he's the greatest coach ever.
Act IV: "You almost forgot he was out there."
Mike Budenholzer: The ironic part of that game was that we had our best offensive quarter when Tim did the least. He only took three shots that in the second and scored just five, but we got 35 that quarter, which, back in those days, was just a ludicrous amount for us. It was kind of foreshadowing what the Spurs would go on to become, everyone sharing the ball and being a threat to score. And then, naturally, we got bogged down and Tim had to score a million points in the second half to keep us in it.
Malik Rose: Yeah man, I had eight in the second, "Smitty" [Steve Smith] had seven and "Big Dave" [David Robinson] had five. We were rolling against them guys, but they were lighting us up too. Tim was on the bench for a bit and we didn't go back to him that much when he came back in. You almost forgot he was out there, as crazy as it sounds. Whoever had it, shot it, and nobody could miss, and when we did miss, the refs would call a foul.
Del Harris, Mavericks assistant coach 2000-2006: For such a high-scoring game, there was no flow whatsoever. It was just a non-stop parade to the line for both teams, and it's not like Nellie or Pop were putting guys at the line on purpose. Looking back on it, I think we all understood what was happening.
Steve Nash: You know who was one of the referees that night, right?
Tim Donaghy, NBA Referee, 1994-2007: How would I describe a game that had 70 combined free-throw attempts? Lucrative! Oh, I kid, I kid. I don't remember it off-hand, but I imagine it was overly physical. As I recall the Mavericks at the time were totally small and didn't have anyone who could really match up with Duncan, so they probably had to resort to fouling a lot, and over did it.
(Of note: Donaghy kept repeatedly winking and making "cha-ching" cash register noises during his interview.)
Don Nelson, Mavericks coach, 1997-2005: I didn't mind a ticky-tack game, to be honest. Why would I? We had more skill guys and better shooters. As long as he called it both ways, I was fine with it. And having played for Red [Auerbach] on those Celtics teams, I knew all about gamesmanship and the dark underbelly of the game that those folks in the league offices don't want us to talk about. I was probably upset at the time, but I kind of laugh at it now, especially knowing how crazy it drove Mark, with all the studies he'd commission and videos he'd send to the league office. He'd spare no expense for that stuff, he didn't care no matter how much [former commissioner David] Stern fined him. But I still had to sue him to honor my f------ contract.
Steve Smith: So I scored seven points in the second quarter alone. Second quarter alone! What's Manu got to say about that?
Danny Ferry: Man, let it go, Smitty.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks forward, 1998-present: We were a young team at the time and surprised people the year before by making the playoffs for the first time in a while and upsetting Utah but we changed a lot of the pieces around me, Fin [Michael Finley] and Steve [Nash]. We had veterans like Vernon Maxwell, Loy Vaught and Christian Laettner and lost all those guys and replaced them with Nick Van Exel, Tim Hardaway and Danny Manning, always looking for the right mix. It's been like that for most of my career. But I remember we lost to them [the Spurs] in the second round the year before, and when we played them in that game we were on a bit of a roll, winning a few in a row and for the guys who were on that team from 2001 wanted to stick it to them, to get that bad taste out of our mouth. And I thought they would come out with an edge, because of what happened with Juwan Howard and Derek Anderson. I thought it'd be kind of a rough, chippy game, and it wasn't. There were a lot of fouls, but nothing dirty. We were moving the ball, getting good looks and shooting it well. We were having a lot of fun and I could hear Pop yelling sometimes, which is usually a sign that things are going your way.
Mike Brown: Woo, that Anderson play was a tough one. It was a cheap shot for sure, but the league was more physical in those days. And stuff like that happened all the time back in the 80's and 90's. We didn't lose him, he still played against the Lakers in the next round, but he wasn't the same and in the back of our minds we knew we had no chance. Those were four ugly games, man. They whooped us pretty good.
Juwan Howard, Mavericks center, 2000-2002: Ginobili should pay me commission for that, man. I made his whole career possible. (Laughs) Nah, I'm just playing. That whole thing with Anderson was so overblown. It wasn't malicious on my part, just a fluke play, guys competing. And let's be real, they weren't gonna beat Shaq and Kobe with or without him.
R.C. Buford: Who knows what would've happened if Anderson was healthy? Maybe he would've played well in the playoffs and we would've felt compelled to sign him to a nice deal and not had a roster need to bring over Manu and we deal his rights somewhere and NBA history is totally different and we're all out on our ass. You learn quickly in this business that you need to be both lucky and good but if you could pick just one, go with lucky.
Nowitzki led all scorers with 11 points in the second quarter, but the Spurs finally caught up to Dallas on the scoreboard a couple of times late in the period and took a brief lead on a Terry Porter "and-1." A pick-and-roll layup from Nash to Nowitzki with seven seconds to go sent the visitors to the locker room up 59-58.
Gregg Popovich: We couldn't stop Dirk. Couldn't even slow him down. He was coming into his own as a player by then, doing it consistently night after night, really showing that he's someone special. We were trying different guys, Tim and Bruce and Malik and just not getting anywhere and our transition defense was terrible. So I was probably too busy in time outs, asking people "Hey, pretty please, if it's not too much trouble, can you please run back on defense?" to care what we were doing offensively. We probably had no business being in the game, to be perfectly honest.
Tim Duncan: So we had our best quarter when I did nothing? Obviously we'd have won if I just kept sucking. Then you wouldn't be asking me about it either.
To be continued.