DAR Sports: The Lakers vs Spurs Rivalry

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Since 1999, there have been consistent franchises in the NBA that have essentially controlled the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors just recently hit their prime and prominence, but before them, it was mostly two of the greatest franchises in NBA history led by the two greatest coaches in the world. The Los Angeles Lakers had been without immense success in the 90's minus a few minor playoff appearances (1991 Finals was their only trip to the grand stage during the decade), and though they were able to get into the playoffs every year after they acquired Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 1996, they didn't seem like they were ready to get into winning position. The San Antonio Spurs had suffered a losing season and hired coach Gregg Popovich to help right the wrongs, and they drafted Wake Forest standout Tim Duncan in 1997 to be a part of a newer Twin Towers with David Robinson. They had yet to make the NBA Finals or get beyond the Conference Finals during the 90's, much like the Lakers, but as 1999 struck, that would change. For both teams.

The young Lakers team with Kobe and Shaq would start to make progress and in 1999, the Spurs and Lakers clashed in a Western Conference Semifinals battle. It was the perfect storm in someway. David Robinson was still a top center, Tim Duncan was becoming an amazing player, and Kobe was starting to develop more as a starting guard while Shaq was in his most dominant prime. The rivalry was essentially the perfect storm for the Western Conference and from the years of 1999 through 2004, these two teams met in the playoffs, causing a mostly slept on and underrated rivalry. Today, we look at the rivalry that shaped the 2000s in many ways, and certainly shaped the Western Conference. Let's get into it.

The Lakers vs Spurs matchups turned out to be a meeting of two Western Conference powers. As a Lakers fan, I developed a dislike for the Spurs through the meetings. Through the 2000s, the Lakers and Spurs dominated. Somewhere in between their title runs, they always managed to cross paths. Two players that really come to mind in those playoff meetings were Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. The Duncan/Bryant match ups featured two of the best players through the 2000's in my view. Both have 5 NBA titles in their careers and both had to go through each other.

If I had to pick one moment through the Lakers/Spurs meetings that stuck out the most  to me, it would have to be Derek Fisher's shot with 0.4 seconds left to win the game. To me, the shot was everything because of the looks on the Spurs faces after that shot. To this day, I never get tired of watching that shot and seeing Fisher run off the floor. It's a great moment in basketball.

We all know about the Lakers/Kings rivalry and just how contentious and classic that was, but what doesn't get nearly as much attention are the Lakers vs Spurs contests. The Kobe/Shaq years mixing with the tail end of the "Twin Towers" era and leading into the Tim Duncan era gave us some great games. From 1999-2004, the two teams met in the playoffs. The Lakers hold the advantage during those years 3-2. None of those series went more than 6 games, but it shows how in any given year, one team could take the other on and take the other out and despite the short series, the games were always competitive.

With Pop showing he could hang with the man at the time considered the best coach ever (though Pop has surpassed Phil in my opinion), we started to see what made him such a great coach and these series really laid the foundation for his legend as well as that of Tim Duncan. The Spurs may not be the glamour team but the classic games they gave us these years cannot be forgotten.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
-I remember the 1999 and 2001 playoff battles between these two teams vividly. As Duncan and Robinson began working on their championship chemistry, Kobe and Shaq were beginning to find their rhythm. In 1999, in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Spurs were too much to overcome, as they would end sweeping the Lakers, but we knew from their performance this series that the Lakers were one step closer to greatness, with Kobe averaging 21.3 PPG and Shaq putting up 23.8 PPG and 13 rebounds a game in the series, but this was the year of Duncan, as he averaged 29 points and 11 rebounds per game and was the driving force of victory for the Spurs. The 2001 battle between the teams would be the exact opposite of their 1999 battle as the Lakers swept the Spurs on their way to a second straight title. That series would take place in the Western Conference Finals, and with Kobe Bryant playing to his full potential in the series, the Spurs didn't have a chance. Kobe would be the leader of the team in this series, averaging 33 points per game along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists, while Shaq did what he does best by putting up 27 points per game along with 13 rebounds. One thing about this series that sticks out the most to me is that it dispels the notion that Shaq "carried" Kobe, which was preposterous to begin with. The biggest difference between this 2001 series and their 1999 series was that the Lakers dominated the game much more, winning games 3 and 4 by 39 and 29 points respectively. They would go to win the NBA Championship, much like the Spurs did (Spurs won the title in 5 games in 1999, Lakers won in 5 games in 2001) after they swept them.

The last three meetings in a row were a bit different, but the fact remained that whoever won the battle between the two went on to win the NBA Championship, except in 2004. In 2002 and 2003, the Spurs and Lakers would seem a bit closer matched than their first two big showdowns, and with David Robinson nearing the end of his career, the Spurs would try to get another title for The Admiral. 2002 would not be that year, as the Lakers won in 5 very competitive games in the Western Conference Semifinals. Much like the 2001 series, Kobe would be the leading scorer, putting up over 26 points a game,    while Shaq finished with around 21 points and 12 rebounds a game. All 5 games were pretty close, and with the Spurs able to slightly slow down Shaq and his dominance, they had a fighting chance to win the series. The star of that series? Tim Duncan, even in a losing effort. He averaged 29 points and an amazing 17 rebounds per game, but the aging David Robinson wasn't able to provide that same Twin Towers pizazz and wasn't fully healthy, which ultimately could have made the difference. 2003 however was a bit different. The Spurs had picked up an amazing player in Manu Ginobili, and Manu would end up making a huge difference going forward for the Spurs. Kobe and Shaq were both at their best level, and once again, Kobe outscored Shaq in the series (for those who continue to say Shaq carried Kobe), and he finished with 32.3 PPG, while Shaq was his dominant self again in the post with 25.3 PPG and 14.3 RPG, but it still wasn't enough surprisingly. The Spurs put a halt to the fourth straight title for the Lakers, as Duncan once again shined with 28 points and almost 12 rebounds a game, but Manu, Bruce Bowen, and Tony Parker would be difference makers in the series as well, as they all averaged over 11 points a game in the series. The Spurs would win in 6 games, the longest a series between the two of them had gone.

The final battle of the early 2000s in 2004, would be the last for a few years, before the Spurs would go on to win two more titles in 2005 and 2007. The "super team" Lakers with Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton would defeat the David Robinson less Spurs (he retired in 2003) in 6 games to advance to the Conference Finals, and they would come up short in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. After this, the two teams would meet again in the 2008 Conference Finals, where the Lakers would win 4-1 in an interesting 5 game series, and in 2013, in the first round, we got the final battle (as of now), between the two teams when a Kobe Bryant less Lakers team lost in a quick sweep to the Spurs. The Spurs would go on to the NBA Finals, but come up just short of a victory. All in all, after the battles were done and finished, we realized that the two best players of the 2000s in Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant grew through this rivalry. There's no doubt in my mind that when we look back at their rivalry, we'll see that this might be one of the toughest opponents for each team in the playoffs. While the Kings never beat the Lakers, and the Suns struggled to get beyond the Spurs, both teams had each other's number over the years. The Lakers and Spurs are two of the greatest dynasties in NBA history, and their rivalry remains one of my personal favorites.



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