2008 revisited, Lakers provided another Jacob Riis quote to live by
AT&T CENTER–For the first time since Manu Ginobili injured his ankle in a second round series against the Hornets, just prior to the 2008 Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs are one of two viable Western Conference contenders to the Lakers throne.
Realistically, it might be the first shot the Spurs have against the Lakers since the Grizzlies’ horrendous Gasol for Gasol and spare change trade shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, if the San Antonio Spurs buck all odds and manage to somehow win Tim Duncan a fifth NBA championship, could they actually have the Lakers acquisition of Pau Gasol to thank? Hard as it is to believe, looking through the Spurs 97-82 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, I’m reminded of yet another Jacob Riis quote:
“Some defeats are only installments to victory.”
For many, the SpursÂ performance–holding the Lakers to 82 points on 35% shooting–was a throwback to lost championship form. But moving from the box score to the film, the game was something entirely different. And the blueprints for the victory might have been established years ago, in 2008, when the Spurs were defeated handily 4-1 in that Western Conference Finals series.
The Lakers fleecing Gasol from the Grizzlies removed the Spurs from atop the Western Conference hierarchy (as did injuries). But in doing so, it also sped up the Spurs transition into what it is todayâ€”a team on the verge of cheating death.
If not for the Gasol trade, the Spurs likely make the NBA Finals in 2008 with a starting lineup of Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, and Fabricio Oberto.
With a severely hobbled Manu Ginobili there was no chance the Spurs beat the Boston Celtics, but just the Finals appearance alone might have been enticing enough to keep the same core and method intact.
Instead, realizing the increasing gap between their team and the rising elite, Popovich and Buford set out on a plan to remake the Spurs.
Matt Bonner was inserted into the starting lineup temporarily and was made a permanent fixture in the rotation. Bowen, Oberto, and Thomas eventually gave way to Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter. Nowhere in the Spurs rotation does a player not have something to contribute offensively.
The result is an offensive juggernaut that has multiple points of attack and is able to sustain off performances from two of their big stars, or even terrible shooting nights.
The transition has not come overnight, even if our attention to it has. It has taken several years to get to this point, and it has not come without some bumps along the way. Winning a championship takes a perfect confluence of circumstances.
Had the Spurs waited a year too late to make this transformation perhaps the piecesÂ are not in place until Ginobili and Duncan fade into irrelevance.
Matching the Lakers, Celtics, or Orlando Magic strength for strength is an excersize in futility. No matter how much the Spurs tried, there was never going to be a frontcourt partner for Duncan to keep up with those teams as he declined.
Barring a Gasol-like deal of their own, or a recreation of the events that led to Duncan’s arrival in the first place, the only way the San Antonio Spurs were going to win another title is the path they are going down now.
And if it pays off? They have a 2008 Gasol-induced lesson in humility and Jacob Riis, once again, to thank for showing them the way.