We like to say that Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are boring. We like to say they’re methodical and old-school, that they’re a bunch of savvy veterans playing the game on their last legs; that they win, but in such a party-pooping way.
Of course, when I say we, I mean you. Unfortunately, this collective “we” likes to say a lot of things about the Spurs, and almost all of them are petulant little quips that would have you believe they steal Barbies and GI Joes from little kids. They’re (apparently) the grown ups who scoff at the flexing and preening, the smashing and dunking, and the flash and flare of today’s athletes. They’re above it all, and above the excitement too. They sit on their high horse and look down at these hooligans who fly through the stratosphere and kiss their muscles after big plays.
I’m here to tell you the Spurs are the most exciting brand of basketball on the market, and there’s nothing Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or anyone else can do about it. They aren’t above anyone else, at least personally. They’re not basketball snobs. We forget that age robs you of athleticism and that so long as Tim Duncan can muster the energy, he will bring the house down on you like it’s 1999. Regardless, the beauty of the Spurs is that they weren’t assembled for highlight packages, they were assembled to win games, to win championships. And it shows.
The Spurs play basketball the way it was meant to be played, the way James Naismith likely envisioned it in 1891 when he hung peach baskets 10-feet off a gym floor. Their offense, headed by a true mastermind of the game in Gregg Popovich, is truly a sight to behold. The picks, the motion, the passing, it all seems so calculated, so precise and planned, so unstoppable. It’s ball movement in it’s natural element, basketball in an organic flow; the open man gets the shot, and it really doesn’t matter who that is. That’s the beauty of it: it’s perfect. It’s the best half-court offense I’ve ever seen.
Only fools think the Spurs are boring. You don’t have to be a devoted fan of the game to appreciate what this team does, not just game in and game out, but as an organization, as professionals. As an Atlanta Hawks fan, I’ve known nothing but egregious management my entire life. It’s junk contract after junk contract, save a penny here and save a penny there, but the atmosphere in San Antonio is the polar opposite. (Of course, the attitude and standards are dictated by ownership, so naturally the Hawks have no shot at stability when the owners are busy suing each other). It’s up to the General Manager to organize a competitive roster with workable contracts and assets, as well as hire a coach who can maximize results for the team and potential for the players. Sure, that’s nothing more than a basic job description, but anyone who follows the NBA knows how difficult it is to establish such an equilibrium. There are only a few great GMs in the NBA, and the Spurs have the best one in RC Buford, along with everything else you could ask for up stairs: a smart and dedicated owner in Peter Holt and one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Popovich. They know what strings to pull and when to pull them, and they’ve created a juggernaut organization that gets the most out of every single resource at their disposal.
It’s hard not to be jealous, really. Maybe that’s at the foundation of all this “boring” talk, but really it’s just ignorance. People see some guys in their mid-30s like Duncan and Manu and get frustrated when they aren’t fast-breaking it like they were 10 years ago. I don’t understand how people can be bored with what the Spurs do at this point. It’s like Pop and the team spent years in a lab, studying and perfecting every single way to pick apart every single team in this league. They don’t get out on the break like the Miami Heat, but they dropped 120 points on Tuesday night by making damn good use of cuts, screens, and basic passing skills. It’s almost like if the Spurs are getting the ball out of bounds, you might as well save yourself the trouble and put 2 points on the board before they even run the play. If Popovich drew it up, chances are it’ll be an open layup, and you’ll stand their dumbfounded, wondering how you were just dissected like a dead pig in a 10th grade Chemistry class.
Kevin Durant scored 31 points on Tuesday night, while Harden and Westbrook tallied 30 and 27 respectively as well. They combined for 88 points. 88 points! When you have almost 3 different players score 30 points you don’t expect to lose. In fact, you pretty much don’t lose, but the Thunder did, because the Spurs know what they’re doing better than anyone else. Kevin Durant took 3 shots in the fourth quarter. If he were LeBron, he’d be burned at the stake by now, but that’s an entirely different subject matter (although it is funny that Russell Westbrook gets like 85% of the blame for Durant shooting 5 shots in the last two 4th quarters). A lot of his 4th quarter inactivity has to be attributed to successful defense, and the rest can be blamed on a variety of different issues and agendas, but the bottom line remains the same: The older San Antonio Spurs are out-playing the younger and more talented Oklahoma City Thunder through an awesomely strange, combustible combination of efficiency, effectiveness, and basketball IQ.
It’s really a stylistic clash in this series– passes galore vs. dominant isolation. Both of these teams were among the most efficient offensives in the NBA, but 58.5% of the Spurs baskets were assisted in the regular season– a remarkable number. Their ability to read the defense is incredible, and really a testament to Buford who has consistently been able to reel in players that fit the system. The draft night pick-up of Kawhi Leonard could be an x-factor for the season, but the audacity to roll the dice on Stephen Jackson is another move that deserves some lauding. Sure, Jackson isn’t really all that good anymore, but as Bill Simmons said, the Spurs needed this kind of “irrational confidence” guy. He’s perfect for them, a gritty vet who has been through the ringer and wants to finally do something with his career aside from score a bunch of points on terrible teams. The Spurs are running Westbrook through more screens than I thought possible, and Tony Parker is abusing him every time he gets the chance. Tim Duncan is fundamentaling Ibaka out the door and Ginobili is Manu-ing the last 10 minutes of every game. This is a recipe for a wonderful disaster. Wonder for the Spurs and disaster for the Thunder. I’d like to say that OKC could really make this series interesting, but I doubt it. It could and likely will go 6 games, but even then, the outcome will never really be in doubt.
So it seems as if we’re on a crash course for a Miami Heat – San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals. It’s going to be so much fun. I don’t have to be politically correct and pretend the Celtics are still alive, either. Sure, they have a minuscule chance of escaping what seems to be destiny, but as Stephen A Smith would say, “the fix is in.” We know who the best teams are, and we should want to see them play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s gotten to the point where the media won’t allow LeBron James to breathe if he doesn’t win a title, but he’s probably not going to win one this year either, and there is truly no shame in that. Trophies aren’t a-dime-a-dozen, they’re something reserved for the best teams, and as of right now, there is no question who the best team is. The Spurs have won 20 games in a row and are 10-0 in the playoffs. They waltzed through Utah, blasted through LA, and are well on their way to trudging through Oklahoma City. Miami is next in line, and if I could offer them any advice, it would be to duck and run for cover, because the old Spurs are coming, boring or not, and they aren’t slowing down.