Winning a division title probably won’t move the seismograph in Los Angeles, but beating the San Antonio Spurs is always a big deal for the Lakers and it is also becoming a common occurrence.
The Spurs and Lakers are the two dominant teams of this decade, winning a combined six championships and one or the other has been involved in eight of the past nine NBA Finals. As much as the Spurs would like to think that they are on equal footing with the Lakers, the so-called rivalry has been one-sided in favor of the guys wearing purple and gold. In five playoff matchups, the Lakers are 4-1 against the Spurs, eliminating the San Antonio in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008, and was one Robert Horry shot away from going 5-0 against Tim Duncan and Co.
On Thursday night in San Antonio, the Lakers defeated the Spurs, 102-95, with relative ease. Sure, the Spurs didn’t have Manu Ginobili, but the Lakers didn’t have Andrew Bynum. The Spurs made it close at the end, even getting within 95-93 with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Spurs made a nice comeback, but the Lakers were in control the whole game from the opening tip. The Lakers led by as many as 18 points and the only reason the game was close was because L.A. played the night before in Houston (winning that game too).
The victory also allowed the Lakers to clinch their 20th Pacific Division title, but you will not see that banner anywhere at Staples Center because the Lakers only raise NBA championship banners – nine of them to be exact (14 if you count the Minneapolis titles).
Jeff McDonald wrote in the San Antonio Express-News:
The final buzzer had sounded, the Spurs’ hair-on-fire comeback from 18 points behind had fallen short, and Tim Duncan was looking for someone to hug.
He settled for Kobe Bryant. Then, he patted Sasha Vujacic on the rump and waved a farewell to Derek Fisher.
To the untrained eye, the aftermath of the Lakers’ 102-95 victory Thursday night at the AT&T Center looked like goodbye. If Duncan and the rest of the Spurs get their wish, it was just a see-you-soon.
“Obviously, they’re the best team in the league right now,” Duncan said. “If we do see them again (in the playoffs), hopefully we’ve learned something from this game.”
What the Spurs actually learned is that they cannot and will not defeat the Lakers in a seven-game series. Duncan can say all he wants about looking ahead, but what the Spurs should be doing is pulling for the Lakers to get knocked out early so they won’t have to face them in the Western Conference playoffs.
Whether Ginobili plays or not, the Spurs do not have the same vice-grip defense in years past. Duncan, 33, does not have enough big guys in the frontline to protect his back; Bruce Bowen is finally showing his age; and Kurt Thomas is just a part-time player.
“We hung around,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s just difficult to spot the best team in the league 18 points and then play catch-up.”
Duncan, who is 40 of 92 from the field since his return from a knee injury, labored through another off night. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds but missed 7 of 13 shots.
With 2:19 to play, the Spurs clawed to within two points on Tony Parker’s second 3-pointer of the night. Kobe Bryant responded by sticking a contested 3-pointer over rookie George Hill, who had just been dispatched into the game to guard him.
“That’s Kobe being Kobe,” Duncan said. “He made a big shot.”
That gave L.A. a 98-93 edge with 1:46 remaining. The Spurs would manage just one basket the rest of the way.
“We’re going to try to finish the season strong,” Parker told the Express News. “And hopefully we can play them again.”
For Parker’s sake, let’s hope the Lakers and Spurs don’t meet in the playoffs because it will not be close.