Spurs and Warriors Game One — First Half

I am in writing a last-minute research paper that I should have completed about three weeks ago. Such is life. Still, I have miraculously found the time and ability to live-blog-distract-myself during said writing.

1st Q

Immediately (or really, during, as it began with about two-minutes left in the Heat game) after MVP Bron and co dropped game one against the Bulls, the Spurs come out and look like they’ve been chillin’ all week also. So much of basketball is rhythm. So much rhythm gets lost in scrimmages and practice. There is no way to reproduce the do-or-die rush of adrenaline that comes with playoff game. Thus far, Golden State has played more recent games than have the Spurs and it shows. Missed buckets, slow reactions. This is to be expected. Still, the spark to life came and the Spurs are back in it. The Warriors are still ahead and looking good.

2nd Q

I need to move to Argentina, ya’ll. Messi came in in the 60th minute and scored two goals on four shots this weekend (the other two were off the top corner and off the keeper). Gino comes in and hits a three, gets a steal, and looks 31 years old. Mark Jackson is a good-ass coach. Golden State looks scrappy. They have shooters (which are always game-changing in that infuriating way), and Mark gives them some swagger and confidence. Curry just hit a three to put the Warriors up 42-31. It is only the W’s third (Spurs have four). I’m thankful. The GS beat writer Tim Kawakami1 said that he thought the Spurs would win because we could match them three-for-three. The flaw with that is this: Curry can get his own shot, even if they look impossible or ridiculous. The Spurs have a Rube Goldberg-style of getting those shots, comparatively speaking. The Drive and Kick style is awesome in the flow of the game but it’s hardly the magic you need in the playoffs. ***More soccer references warning *** It is Barca sans Messi-magic. That is to say, it is Arsenal.

Also of note: Bogut’s big-man floater. It is stupid. I hate it. Mostly because he hit it.

The Ginobili in-traffic-dunk will forever be my favorite thing ever.

Matt Bonner playoff poor-performance will forever be my least-favorite thing ever. Beside Juwon Howard judo-chopping Derek Anderson.

After a series of embarrassing strategic fouls on Bogut 2, Mark Jackson takes the Australian out and the Warriors come out of the time out and hit a three. It’s 53-49 and I’m out of snacks.

* * *

1. [@Timkawakami](http://twitter.com/timkawakami “twitter”) [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-1)

2. Whatever your feelings on the tactic, I hate the Hack-A-[Name] the most. It doesn’t rhyme if it isn’t Shaq and that makes it terrible. [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-2)

Elsewhere: March 29, 2010

I am in the midst of a reconfiguration of myself on the Internet. In this endeavor I have found ancient (in internet time) posts that I didn’t hate. This is one.

(Untitled)

[![beautilation: Brooklyn Subway, This is very surreal, like from a movie, but it’s real, unfortunately.](http://static1.squarespace.com/static/569d444005f8e2b24dace8c6/56b6913106dcb7a9cf168a48/56b6913206dcb7a9cf168abf/1454805418102/tumblr_mcpwbjuJvC1qavukro1_1280.jpg)](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/new-york-city-subway-flooding-_n_2043710.html) beautilation: Brooklyn Subway, This is very surreal, like from a movie, but it’s real, unfortunately.

Season Preview

In my brief time as Air Alamo guy I wrote in last year’s season preview that Spurs fans should not be mad at the situation, that OKC had too much youth and athleticism, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we got dumped by a young squad of athletes, whether that was Memphis again or OKC’s youth troupe.

I was still sad when we were eliminated- especially by the way we were dumped. I’ll even admit that I didn’t take my own advice and was the tiniest bit surprised. I thought we had unlocked the secret of eternal basketball life. Instead OKC used our powers of ball-sharing against us and undid all the good that was built up throughout that weird lockout-shortened season.

This year we have the same squad. Whereas the 2011 champion Mavs have the all-reject roster, the 2012 favorite Lakers retooled with a HOF point guard and the most athletic 7-footer in the game. The Heat replaced shooters with a HOF shooter and a former $100 million man. The Thunder still have the best scorer in the game and a lot of talent that can score and is willing to share the ball. Overall we are one year older and the competition is one year more experienced.

This isn’t unusual. Our unwillingness to tinker is our greatest strength. The Spurs value the corporate knowledge, that oft referenced Popovich phrase. It has also served to render us invisible. There are only so many words that can be written about Pop and Timmy and the Spurs Way. Everyone is content to forget about the Spurs until June, when circumstances force them to re-pay attention.

This season we have something slightly different. The NBA press has long respected yet long awaited the end of the run. Fans here have anticipated The End for a while. Some, maybe even Tony Parker himself, have already declared the end as having come and gone. That debate is for another post. This season and in all the seasons to come instead of waiting to see signs of slippage and looking for a chance to retool, I want to see how far this thing goes. Don’t trade Manu. Don’t trade Tony. Don’t tank. Let’s be like Kramer and the car salesman. I want them to say that the Spurs and that other guy went farther with the same roster (or at least the same big three) than anyone ever dreamed. I want you to be there when it happens.

What will it look like? How far exactly can this thing go?

Let’s say it is the fourth quarter 5:39 to go. The score is tied 89-89. Where does the ball go? The guy with the hot hand? Tim? He hasn’t been the unquestionable choice since about 2006. Sure, he can win the games against the New Orleans’ of the world. Sure he can use his guile and experience to steal points from Anthony Davis and the like. How about Dwight Howard? How about Perkins?

Will it go to Manu? Depending on the night, depending on the week, he may not be up for it. He is in his mid-thirties and doesn’t dispense greatness with the the same frequency anymore. In the four straight losses to OKC he scored more than 13 points once.

Tony? He is 30 now. We know who he is. We know what to expect from him. He can score in bunches early. He can disappear late. It was fun to hate on him for a while because he had so much potential and would show little flashes of greatness occasionally. He is the youngest and has the freshest legs but he is not Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade or even James Harden. He is Tony Parker, sidekick.

The correct answer is the open guy. The system that go us here. It creates open shots. The flawless execution and ruthless corporate knowledge will render all opposition talent looking foolish and two steps behind. The obvious problem is the same one that was evident last year: we need Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and all the rest to not only carry the team in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs as they did so well last year, but do so against the very best the NBA has in the highest pressure situations there are. It is an incredible specific situation to prepare for, and one that won’t appear for seven months.

It is a test of patience and focus. It is trying to beat a video game with no save points. You have to go straight through to the end perfectly. There is no room for slacking. The machine has to be well-oiled and running smoothly or some other team will be holding the Larry. There is no out. There is no guy to toss the ball to and say “Clear out. You are the offense the rest of the way.”

This is the most intriguing aspect of the following the Spurs this and every year from now until the gas tank is empty. It is far easier to manage egos of the Heat guys in their prime, supremely talented guys that can win a game single-handedly, or guiding young talents on the Thunder, who have the best scorer in the game and something to prove. The Spurs have 30-year olds to manage, young guys to groom, and role players to coach up just to have the slightest of chances. Other teams need role players to “step up” when the stars are having an off night. This Spurs team needs them every night or there will be no tomorrow.

Prediction: 55-27. Exit Second round in 6 games to LAL. Bastards.

Dreaming About KG

Impossible is nothing. 

If Sports teaches us anything it is that the impossible is only until it isn’t. In the unlikely scenario that Kevin Garnett, enemy of Tim Duncan, spends his final years in San Antonio it would represent a significant change of course, surprise some people, and make me exceedingly giddy. 

It would take some financial finagling. Hey, LeBron, Bosh, and Wade took pay cuts to get together. Duncan and Garnett have made all the money already. Both are über-competitors. If you told them that all it would take to win another, possibly last-chance title is a pay cut and some hatchet-burying?

The TD window is still open but only just. Tony Parker may just only be Regular Season good. He and Ginobili spark the new fast-break first offense. None of that has to change much. KG is a still-rangy big man that can pass and play the post better than Tiago Splitter.

And really, are we going to compromise a chance at a title for the development of Tiago Splitter?

 Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson – that there is a list of ballers that don’t quit, don’t get scared, and still can play. We don’t have young guns like OKC and Miami. I can live with a roster of bad asses. 

It’s Over

Starting out with made shots and a sense of aggressiveness was exactly the look I expected from the Spurs. How long they could maintain that run was in question. I was fully prepared to see a nice little 15-5 run to open followed by the Thunder unleashing that torrent of offense and rebounding and defense that flustered the Spurs these last three games. 

Intead it was the Stephen Jackson-Tony Parker combo that went crazy. Jackson had four threes at halftime (4-4) and Tony went HAM with 21 points and 10 assists to my immeasurable relief. 

So what happened in that first half? First, you must have noticed that when the Thunder missed, they didn’t get many easy put-backs. Also, most importantly, they weren’t getting easy buckets of TURNOVERS! Thats’s right. Instead of committing basketball suicide by coughing it up on offense, the Spurs were showing no hesitation, making shots (%60 from 3).

Everyone knew OKC was going to come out gunning and they did. There simply was no stopping it. The lead was fifteen to start, then it was eleven. Then it was ten. Timmy was getting hesitant on that free-throw line jumper. Everyone was missing shots. The rotations were too slow. Pop yanked Tiago and yelled at him. That didn’t really help. Durant hit free throws to make it eight. Duncan missed a jumper. Ibaka punches it.. Down to six. 

Spurs countered with Jackson, Tony Kawhi, Ginibili,  and Tim. Four quick Timmy points sandwiched a Durant three. Lead was 7. Durant got a dunk. Five. Jackson trades threes with Westbrook and Thabo. No one is making anything. Lead is down to one. Durant hits a three. 

We are down one. 

Spurs trade baskets involving spins, technicals fouls and missed free throws and get out of that terrible third quarter up one point. 

The fourth quarter was a blur. That blur was the Thunder racing by. Tony and Tim sat to start the quarter with the thinking that they would need to go hard for the final eight minutes or so. That left SA with Gary Neal doing …. well, something

Then it didn’t so much slip away as it did stay frustratingly out of reach. In a different time, against a different team, the Spurs get the breaks they need to close the gap. Instead, the Thunder stayed tantalizingly ahead by four or five or seven or three for the rest of the game. 

Suddenly it was over. I knew it when Stephen Jackson missed a three. He finished 6/7 from deep and 5/6 from the line. 

The Spurs finish the season 50-16 in the regular season and 10-4 in the playoffs winning 11, 11, and 20 in a row at different points. They go out on a four-game losing streak.


And so it ends. For a good number of fans this was worse than any of the other heartbreaks (2004, 2006) because Tim is 36, and Manu 35. This loss seemingly signals the end.  

Yet that is the strange part about being a Spurs fan. They’ve never done it like other teams. When they won titles they slightly disappointed because they didn’t win back-to-backs. They’ve been written off in 2000 (asterisk), 2004 (getting old), 2006 (old, again) 2008 (old) 2009-2011 (old), and now? (Really old). 

We’ve all been really lucky to follow this organization. Since 1976 there have only been a handful of truly mediocre years and a whole lot of deep playoff runs. I don’t blame anyone for having adjusted expectations, but I do think everyone owes it to their sanity to get a broader perspective of the situation. We have a really awesome franchise that can muster up a conference final appearance with two old guys, a frenchman, and a bunch of castoffs. 

These last two years have ended disappointingly but only because the regular seasons were so surprisingly awesome. I wouldn’t trade this franchise for any other one. Not the Lakers, or Boston or Chicago. 

Danny Green is young, hungry and motived (read his tweets post-loss). Kawhi Leonard might be an elite shut-down defender in a couple years. Tony Parker still has three elite years left. Tim is aging gracefully. Ginobili can always muster some magic if Paul Pierce and KG can. Stephen Jackson is home again, and makes love to pressure. Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, et al are solid role players that can win regular season games. We probably just need one or two guys that can win us playoff games. That is entirely possible. We did manage to swap out Richard Jefferson for Stack Jack. Now let’s swap out Matt Bonner for … . ?

Go Spurs Go. 

2013 is our year. 

WCF G5: Brink of Elimination

Damn if this doesn’t feel just like that Memphis series last year. Damn if the Spurs didn’t show the same kind of heart and guts by coming back from thirteen to cut it to three with 14.5 seconds left. Damn if this doesn’t feel like a punch in the face.

Pop, trying to counter Scott Brook’s move to switch screens and go small, started Manu and played Blair. Manu Ginobili balled out –34 points on 10 of 21 shooting including 5 of 10 from three – but there still was no stopping Durant nor Ibaka. To make things more interesting, Russ Westbrook showed up for a while and was hitting that midrange, free-throw line jumper.

The Spurs played better than they did in game three, but pretty much the same as they did in game four. This time instead of getting run by Durant in the fourth quarter, they got treated to a third quarter show.

His barrage of points thwarted a third quarter run by the Spurs that took them ahead and made things seem alright for just a moment. It kind-of-almost-sorta looked like the runs that put them up for good in games one and two, and that carried the streak to twenty games.

KD wasn’t havin’ it.

Instead the lead went up to nine after only being eight at half. In the fourth quarter, there was another run for the Spurs that was knocked away. When the OKC pushed it to thirteen? Yep. People were exiting the building.

Just like last year, however, the Spurs didn’t go out like punks. They kept fighting only instead of a series-extending game-tying three from Gary Neal we got a hesitation from Tim Duncan and an off-balance fadeaway from Ginobili (that almost went in).

I’ll be playing Shoulda’ Woulda’ Coulda’ in my head tonight and all day tomorrow. That almost-rally would have gone down in playoff lore – like the almost-comeback in game seven in 2006 would have – instead we have one game in OKC that feels just like the game six in 2004 after Derek Fisher cashed that damned point-four shot.

There are no more moves to make. Scottie Brooks has the kryptonite that thwarts the powerful Spurs offense of 2012. Gregg Popovich has no answer for Durant and so no answer for Ibaka hitting jumpers, role players hitting timely shots, nor Harden getting clutch buckets.

The only flicker of hope tonight was that Russ Westbrook still doesn’t know how to step out of the way of the best scorer in the league. It was his terrible misses and turnovers that allowed SA to crawl back from thirteen and cut it to three in a couple minutes.

Hope isn’t a strategy. I don’t know if we have any of that left, anyway.

Tony Parker can’t shake Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, nor Derek Fisher anymore. When he does, he can’t score on Ibaka and Perkins. The only reliable shooter left is Stephen Jackson. Bonner, Danny Green and Gary Neal look scared and gun-shy. Credit Ibaka, Thabo and all those guys on the Thunder who are playing championship caliber ball right now.

Game six is Wednesday. Here’s hoping.

WCF G4: Durantula

ARRGH!

Seriously, there was nothing the Spurs could have done to stop that. Scoring is what that guy does. College, Pros, Seattle, OKC? Doesn’t matter. He gets buckets. My personal nightmare scenario was the one the Spurs found themselves in late in the fourth quarter. Attempting to claw their way back into it, they needed to get stops against a hot Kevin Durant.

It went as well as you’d expect.

For the Thunder, it was a classic home win. Their role guys – Serge Ibaka especially – carried the load and handed the game to the closer in the fourth quarter. Kendrick Perkins was holding Timmy’s jersey and not getting called for it. He continued his little run of form. That means he was dunking and rebounding and looking less like the guy who was getting eaten up in San Antonio.

Serge Ibaka is going to get the headlines after getting that (very impressive) 11-for-11 nigt. He played a perfect big man, role player game. His jumpers weren’t forced and the rest of his points were dunks and well, dunks. That is all you can ask for from a big man.

I hate him now.

So we have ourselves a series. That means the Spurs, after not losing for 50 days, face a turning point kind of game the likes of which they haven’t faced this season. You may remember that in 2004 the Spurs whopped the Lakers in the first two games, were blown out in game three, lost a close game four (in which Shaq had 28 and Kobe 42), and got point four’d in game five. In game six they played with a look of shock and amazement that everyone in the city shared and lost in LA.

Do I feel like that can happen again? Yes. OKC can play, yo. Kevin Durant can do what he did there pretty much any time he feels like it. There is no Bruce Bowen to stop him. Remember how we were praising Stephen Jackson for his performance on KD in game 1 and 2? Well, he “held” KD to 27 and 31 respectively. He had a quiet 22 the other night, mostly because he wasn’t needed on account of the ass-kicking.

Don’t think that he hasn’t been balling all series. He has. He is still very, very dangerous. The story of the series has been the role/bench guys on OKC stepping up and dominating. Thabo didn’t just defend Parker well on Thursday, he was hitting jumpers. Serge wasn’t just going perfect from the field tonight, he was effecting all the shots in the paint.

On the other side, (our side) those open looks are not translating into made shots. The usual suspects are not showing up. We needed a surprise appearance by DeJuan Blair and timely three bombing from Stack Jack to reach 103 tonight. Bonner has been a no-show, Tiago’s head is somewhere else and Danny Green has reverted to the Cavs-era version.

All that up there means that they havn’t played as well as they did in San Antonio (in this series) or the past 50 days (every where).

This is what happens when you face a good team with awesome talent and a reason to play hard.

Welcome to playoff basketball. It makes your stomach get tied up in knots.

WCF G3: Thunder Strike Back

This was to be expected. Everyone knew (or should have) that OKC was going to come out enthused, refreshed, and Chesapeake Energized by the crowd. The Thunder are better than the Clippers but were doing pretty much the same thing – getting loose balls, blocking shots and making improbably fortunate ones.

The lead was only thirteen points yet remained so throughout that third quarter. The missed shots, Thabo corralling Tony, and eventually, The Beard cashing buzzer-beaters off the backboard at the buzzer happened. The lead ballooned.

This was one of those nights that we hadn’t had since April 11th against the Lakers. Then, I was feeling that we were a sham. Memphis and Z-Bo first introduced me to that. The Suns-like offense and lack of interior defense was disconcerting. LAL’s Bynum dominated the paint in a way that probably justified the media’s inclination to ignore the Spurs’ 2012 record. 

Tonight? Well I am trying to resist feeling like we’ll lose four straight. It kind of feels like those trips to Detroit in 2005… or those trips to LAL in 2001, 2002, 2004, and … My point? This happens in these playoffs. It is great for fans. You likely get to see your team put it on the opposition at least once, people buy shirts, and for one or two days everyone is happy. It is easy to dismiss as a one-off. If your just a fan, this is the best option for you. If you are in that Spurs locker room, obviously you will be focusing on reacting better to crazy athletes playing with desperation? Sometimes the other guy just wants it more than you do that night. 

Thabo Sefolosha locked up Tony Parker – or at least made him work a lot more. The Thunder looked like the youthful team of destiny GQ wanted described them as and … hell, there isn’t anyway we’ll outclass them now, right?

Right?

The thing is, Perk likely won’t be able to flummox Ginobili on the perimeter and those shots in the paint likely will fall in two days. More importantly, the energy level will be more balanced. 

Oh, wait. You’re concerned about Thabo, huh? To butcher a phrase from Game of Thrones:

“The [Thunder] played [their] little trick. [They] can’t do it again."

Well, they can play Thabo on Tony again. Parker will be prepared for that, however. He won’t be tossing terrible, lazy passes within the (surprisingly large) reach of Sefolosha, ya know?  Having been chewed out by Pop, the entire team will have motivation of their own. The wounds of losing will be fresh and nothing pushes a person like embarrassment. 


What is worse: The loss, or Bearded Harden staring down Splitter in a show of faux-toughness?

Answer: Having to deal with Oklahoma smugness. 

WCF G2: Positive Externality

So that was beautiful, eh? Twitter pretty damn unanimously declared that third quarter the most gorgeous display of sport this side of Barcelona. It is hard to disagree. It was even more difficult for me not to drink thirstily the waves of adulation for San Antonio’s basketball team. Citizens of the Alamo City are born with a natural ache for acknowledgement. The city is so chronically overlooked* seemingly despite any and all achievements that any droplet of recognition is gobbled up voraciously by we fans.

*[They do love the Alamo, though. So we have that going for us. ]

It is kind of ridicoulous. I’ve told the story many times of how one of my friends from college was shocked that San Antonio had an airport, let alone an International one. Imagine her surprise when I gave her the population figures. Apparently people don’t believe it.

Seriously, today on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen’s after-ball segment (40 min in), they discussed San Antonio’s ‘interesting’ history as a basketball team and with astonishment, the city’s population. 

[In the web magazine’s defense, Matt Yglesias did toss up this piece on the Spurs as unloved dynasty. Also, more HUandL on Timmy Duncan]

_
_It was unbelievable. I’ll spare you even more piling on or stats that back up what your eyes already saw. I’ll even spare you break downs of how they did it or what the Thunder can conceivably muster up to make it not so easy anymore.

Instead, let’s bask in the glowing praise for a little bit longer. 

I mean, if there is anything I’ve learned from watching playoff basketball over the last fifteen years it is this: when you win you feel like you can never lose. When you lose? Well, you’re smart enough to figure it out. 

I want to enjoy the sunshine a little longer.

Twenty , ya’ll.