Ranking Best Spurs-Lakers Rivalry Games of the Kobe Bryant Era
The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have squared off in no fewer than six playoff series since Kobe Bryant came into the NBA 17 seasons ago, and it shouldn't be surprising that a few of their postseason matchups have been epically entertaining.
Whether it was Tim Duncan posting a ridiculous box score in a losing effort in Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals or Derek Fisher drilling one of the most memorable shots in playoff history in 2004, these clubs have generated more than their share of jaw-dropping excitement.
Of course, they've also done battle in the regular season during the so-called "Kobe Bryant Era." A couple of those contests ended dramatically, too.
Some of the names you'll never forget, like Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson.
But there are others that may have slipped into the recesses of your memory, like Roger Mason.
Whether fighting for the right to advance in the playoffs or jostling for bragging rights in the regular season, the stakes have always been high when the Lakers and Spurs have squared off over the last couple of decades.
It's a letdown that Bryant won't be involved this time around, but as you'll see, his tilts with the Spurs never disappointed.
*All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Honorable Mention: Finley Settles Score in OT
On Jan. 28, 2007, Bryant's Lakers sneaked into overtime against the Spurs when Vladimir Radmanovic (remember him?) buried a game-tying three with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The two teams battled back and forth in the extra period as Tony Parker went to work on L.A.'s porous perimeter defense. Clearly, very little has changed in six years, as the Lakers still can't handle players with quickness like Parker's.
Anyway, Michael Finley drilled a three with just 1.3 seconds left in overtime to put the Spurs up by two. Radmanovic couldn't answer with a 27-foot prayer and San Antonio held on to win by a final score of 96-94.
Bryant finished that game with 31 points, while Duncan tallied 29 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks.
The Lakers would bow out in the first round to the Phoenix Suns later that year. The Spurs had a slightly better end result, though, as they won the NBA title behind the brilliant performance of Parker, the Finals MVP.
No. 5: Tim Duncan Goes Bonkers
The 2002 Western Conference Semifinals were absolutely loaded with great individual performances—another of which we'll get to momentarily—but Tim Duncan's beastly 34 points, 25 rebounds and four assists in Game 5 of that series stand out as one of the very best.
The 25 rebounds were the most Duncan has ever had against the Lakers in a playoff game, but unfortunately, they weren't enough to stave off elimination. L.A. took that game by a final score of 93-87, which clinched the series.
Bryant had 26 points, while O'Neal chipped in 21 of his own as the Lakers charged through the playoffs en route to their third consecutive NBA championship.
(As an aside, note that the photo above is actually from 2002, proving once and for all that Tim Duncan does not age.)
No. 4: Roger Mason? Roger Mason.
We head back to a regular-season contest for the No. 4 entry on the list of great Spurs-Lakers game during Bryant's era.
This game, played on Jan. 14, 2009, featured near triple-doubles from both Bryant and Duncan (the former needed three more rebounds, while the latter missed out by a pair of assists), a shot from the Mamba that appeared to seal the deal and one of the wildest late-game sequences in the rivalry's history.
With 12.9 seconds remaining, Bryant hit a three that put the Lakers up 111-109.
But then Fisher committed an unforgivable gaffe—he fouled Roger Mason on a 16-foot jumper with just under 11 seconds to go.
Mason's baseline fling went in and his free throw gave San Antonio a one-point lead. Anticlimactically, Trevor Ariza gave away the Lakers' final possession by turning the ball over on a traveling violation.
Bryant would go on to collect his fourth ring that season, but this game stands as one of the lowlights of the Lakers' 2008-09 campaign.
No. 3: Bryant Goes for 45
Hello there, standard definition! You have most certainly not been missed.
If your HD-adjusted eyes can stomach the grainy quality of a 2001 clip, you get to enjoy a young Bryant exploding for 45 points against the Spurs in Game 1 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals. L.A. won the game handily, finishing with a 104-90 victory.
If Bryant looks unstoppable here, it's because he actually is. In the series-clinching fourth game of the Lakers' previous series against the Sacramento Kings, Bryant dropped 48, giving him a consecutive-game total of 93 points.
Not bad, right?
As a whole, the Lakers were similarly dominant during that postseason, sweeping their way to the finals before losing their only playoff game to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. After that lone slip in Game 1 of the Finals, L.A. blew past Philly to collect the Larry O'Brien trophy in one of the most impressive overall postseason performances in history.
No. 2: Tragedy into Triumph
As the clock wound down in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals, Bryant had the ball near half court in an one-on-one situation. Even 11 years ago, the Lakers finished a lot of their close games in this fashion.
So clearly, little has changed.
But things went wrong in this instance as Bruce Bowen appropriately kicked the ball loose (which is better than the kicks he delivered to airborne opponents' ankles during his career) and the Lakers scrambled to retain possession.
The ball found Fisher, who heaved up a prayer.
Bryant streaked to the rim and corralled Fisher's miss, putting in the offensive rebound to put the Lakers up by two with 5.1 seconds left.
The basket completed a big fourth-quarter comeback that included a dozen points from Bryant.
O'Neal gutted out a myriad of injuries to post a solid final line of 22 points, 11 boards and five assists, while Duncan tallied 30 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Even the aging David Robinson got involved in this game, putting up 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Bryant and the Lakers closed out the series in Game 5, beat the Kings in the Conference Finals and swept the New Jersey Nets to claim the title. But who knows what would have happened if Bryant hadn't saved the day here?
No. 1: The Derek Fisher Shot
Anyone who's spent much time following the NBA had to know this one was coming.
In Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, the lead changed hands four times in the final moments as Bryant buried a 20-footer to put the Lakers up by one with 11.9 ticks to go.
Tim Duncan followed that up with an 18-footer that left the Lakers just .4 seconds to find a way to get a look at the rim.
Conventional NBA wisdom dictates that it's physically impossible to catch and shoot a basketball in less than .3 seconds, so the Lakers literally had the slimmest margin for error possible.
Nonetheless, Fisher received the inbound pass from Gary Payton (yes, that Gary Payton), turned over his right shoulder and somehow sank a fading jumper—all in four-tenths of a second.
L.A. won the game and took the series in a subsequent Game 6.
This game's final sequence was not only the best in the storied rivalry of these two teams, it was also one of the most incredible finishes in NBA history.