Greatest Moments from the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio Spurs Rivalry
Despite receiving much less coverage than plenty of other rivalries in the NBA, this one has been a perpetually grueling matchup.
Since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, these two squads have met six times in the playoffs; Los Angeles holds the edge, having won four of those.
Each of those six times, however, the winner of the series has gone on to reach the NBA Finals, and they've won the championship on four of those trips.
And that's just in the past 15 years.
It's almost needless to say, but this rivalry boasts deep roots that extend well beneath the surface.
Such roots also ensure virtually every matchup between the Lakers and Spurs is one to remember.
10. Lakers Sweep Spurs in First Ever Postseason Matchup (1982)
Lakers defeat Spurs in their first ever postseason matchup.
The Lakers and Spurs met in the playoffs for the first time in 1982 at the Western Conference Finals.
San Antonio proved to be no match for the eventual, Magic Johnson-led NBA champions, falling in stride to Los Angeles in just four games.
The series loss left a bitter taste in the Spurs' mouths and lasted all the way through to 1983, when these two teams met once again in the conference finals, where Tinseltown would again prevail.
But that's not what's important here.
Though the Lakers won this matchup rather easily, it marked the beginning of an epic rivalry.
9. Nick Van Exel Saves Lakers from Elimination (1995)
Scroll to the 3:30 mark to see Van Exel's heroics.
Before there was Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, there was Nick Van Exel.
With the Lakers facing elimination in the Western Conference semifinals, Van Exel hit a game-winning three in overtime to secure a Game 5 victory for Los Angeles and force a Game 6.
That same game—that same overtime, in fact—the streaky guard also knocked down a three to tie it up at 88 and keep the Lakers alive.
His go-ahead three was just the cherry on top of an already clutch-filled game.
Unfortunately for Van Exel and the Lakers, their jubilation was short-lived.
8. Spurs Defeat Lakers for First Time in Playoffs (1995)
...The same series that saw Van Exel torch the Spurs at the buzzer saw Los Angeles fall short of an improbable comeback.
That's correct: In 1995, San Antonio finally defeated the Lakers in the playoffs.
After four previous tries, the Spurs managed to overcome the Lakers' overtime heroics in Game 5 and send them home in Game 6.
The series victory not only propelled San Antonio to the Western Conference Finals—where they would lose to the Houston Rockets—but it ended Los Angeles' reign of perfection in their postseason sets.
No doubt this was a pivotal moment, as it added some fuel to the fire that became this rivalry.
7. Kobe Bryant Heats Things Up (1996)
The Lakers-Spurs rivalry took an unexpected twist in 1996.
Kobe Bryant was selected with the 13th overall pick in the draft by the then-Charlotte Hornets. It was a move that didn't have any effect on the rivalry with San Antonio.
Until Charlotte shipped Bryant off to Los Angeles.
Even then, little did the Spurs know they would watch as one of the greatest players of all time went on to torch them in four out of six playoff matchups, leading the Lakers to five championships in the process.
We're nearly 20 years deeper in history, and this is one of the moments that continues to have an impact on this rivalry today.
6. Tim Duncan Joins the Party (1997)
Anything the Lakers did the Spurs could do bigger.
One year later, San Antonio combatted Los Angeles' acquisition of Kobe Bryant by drafting big man Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in the draft.
From there, the Spurs went on to win four NBA titles, one of which they traveled through Bryant and the Lakers to get to.
Muck like Kobe has, Duncan's omnipotence in the post has kept this rivalry going nearly 20 years later.
5. San Antonio Returns the Favor (1999)
After being swept by the Lakers in the playoffs three times since 1982, the Spurs finally returned the favor.
Tim Duncan led San Antonio past Los Angeles in four games in 1999 during the Western Conference semifinals.
The Spurs would go on to defeat the New York Knicks to win the NBA championship, the first in the Duncan-David Robinson era.
This one, much like the series in 1982, helped heighten this rivalry. Once again, the winner of the series went on to win the title and the trophy their formidable foe had their eye.
4. Phil Jackson's Mouthy Debut in Tinseltown (1999)
After the Spurs won a championship in 1999, then-former NBA coach Phil Jackson had some choice words.
He believed San Antonio's victory should have come with an asterisk, because the lockout shortened the season that year. He reiterated his belief 12 years later in the midst of another NBA lockout.
While this was unnerving to Spurs fans, it was more unnerving that he took over as the Lakers head coach the same month San Antonio won that title.
Naturally, this added even more tension to the rivalry overnight.
Jackson would go on to lead the Lakers to five more championships over two separate stints.
More importantly, though, he led Los Angeles past San Antonio in the postseason four out of the next five times they met.
To date, I don't believe Gregg Popovich has requested that any asterisk be placed on any one of Jackson's victories.
3. Robert Horry's Infamous Miss (2003)
Watch Horry's almost heroics at the 9:00 mark.
In the spring of 2003, the Lakers were embarking on a quest for a four-peat.
But then they met the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
With the series tied 2-2, Los Angeles fell behind by as much as 25 in San Antonio. It was then all hope seemed lost.
The Lakers fought back, however, eventually winding up within two in the closing seconds. Kobe Bryant (naturally) wound up with the ball. But he was trapped on the weak side and forced to dish it off to a wide-open Robert Horry.
Horry took the shot, which went halfway down before rattling out. Los Angeles lost that game and ultimately the series and was forced to watch as San Antonio went on to win the championship.
It doesn't get much more exciting than that.
2. Robert Horry Goes Rogue (2003)
Robert Horry went Ray Allen before Allen himself ever did.
After spending six years with the Lakers—a span that saw them meet the Spurs in the postseason four times—Horry went to the dark side and signed with San Antonio.
Though Horry wasn't considered the vital cog he once was, the move shocked everyone in Los Angeles.
More shocking, however, was that he played a key role in helping the Spurs win two more titles over the next five years—a span that saw the Lakers win none.
It seems loyalty has always been an issue in the NBA, doesn't it?
1. Derek Fisher Impossible Fadeaway (2004)
The stage was set for the Spurs to once again beat the Lakers in 2004.
With the Western Conference semifinals tied at two games apiece, Tim Duncan hit a long two-pointer falling away with just 0.4 seconds remaining to give San Antonio the lead.
But not for good.
Derek Fisher hit a fadeaway at an impossible angle to give the Lakers back the lead. This time for good.
Replays showed that the ball left his hands just before the buzzer sounded, making the shot—and the win—legitimate.
Los Angeles would go on to win that series and eventually make a trip to the NBA Finals.
Just another insane notch under the belt of this perpetually compelling rivalry.