Spurs Show Mercy; Beat Grizz 116-96

The only thing that delayed the inevitable was , it turns out, a power surge. The Spurs handled a feisty Memphis Grizzlies squad for the fourth straight time in these playoffs this afternoon, putting the finishing touches on the mercy killing of their horrible season.

The basketball gods were much more kind to the Spurs this season, after a very tough first round matchup last year the Spurs got the worst 7th seed in the history of the league. Memphis was all all heart and injury. They played a record 28 guys this season and never once looked as checked-out as the uninjured, very talented Rockets do. 

Its funny that the conference with the best 1-2 seed combo (a combined 140 wins) might not be as strong as last year’s West lineup. Houston doesn’t play defense anymore and is imploding even while the best player in the league is out and the Grizzlies are injured. Meanwhile, the Clippers are still getting Blake Griffin back into form. 

Barring a ridiculous change in the Dallas Mavericks’ fortunes, next up will be the OKC Thunder who still possess the most athletic 1-2 punch in the league.  They are scary, but maybe not enough for us to worry about. As Mike Erler puts it

> Popovich has been resistant to use Duncan much against small-ball lineups all year, but not everyone is the Warriors. A lot of teams just don’t shoot very well from outside, especially this time of year when everyone’s dog tired and the pressure is so ratcheted up. The Thunder, for example, don’t have many shooters. There’s a legitimate concern that having Duncan play clogs up the offense too much and that he can’t chase around smalls on the other end, but as we saw against Memphis, there are plenty of non-shooters to hide him on, even on switches. I’d rather have him play, because his rebounding and rim-protection is much needed. The Spurs have two very good centers in Duncan and Boban Marjanovic and I wish they’d play to their strengths more often rather than trying to match their opponent’s smaller lineups.

Thats good blogging. The only way to counter the perfect realization of something is not to compete with it but to be its counter. Be the paper to its rock. Be the scissors to its paper. The only time the Warriors looked any kind of beatable was when the Spurs outsized them with Boris and Aldridge. Against the Rockets, Houston looked competitive with an engaged Dwight Howard. Against less than perfect realizations of small-ball, this is even easier and more effective. Look at Charlotte successfully posting Frank Kaminsky this weekend

I’m not advocating for always favoring the Charlotte Hornets basketball strategies over the 67-win Gregg Popovich ones, but I do like Timmy out there a bit more, especially with all this playoff rest. 

 

Clear Second Place

When was the last time we absolutely knew there was a clear better team than the Spurs? Was it those early 2000 Lakers? Was it the Heat? While the SSOL Suns were everyone’s favorite fun-and-gun squad, they only managed to beat (sweep) our favorite team once in a series. The Heat were all but beaten on their own court in one series, and thoroughly dismantled in another. Those OKC Thunder that had everyone questioning the new kings of the NBA? Well the Spurs managed to avenge a previous playoff loss (albeit with a timely injury to Ibaka).   

These Warriors are an all-time great team. This Spurs team is also, just a little less great.  

The Internet was filled with overreaction hot takes in the wake of the Warriors’ 72nd win on the season and first in 33 tries in SA, one that also ended the Spurs second-greatest-all-time home winning streak at 48.  

The dirty secret is that the Spurs have less trouble defending GSW (season lows in pace, points for The Ws) and way more trouble scoring. While some of our fellow fans point to Diaw’s absence as proof that SA still has a chance, that reliance on an aging (but very talented and crucial) guy is telling. Kawhi and LaMarcus are the two leading scorers on this team and yet they struggled in at least one game against the W’s. The Warriors took three of four against SA, but two were throttlings and this while also missing a role player or two for a couple. 

The Kevin Martin signing was a sign that the Spurs wanted more firepower — and likely for the Warriors. 

While Steph Curry and LMA are matchup problems when in the lineup, the Spurs don’t have any other clear advantages in the other units. Meanwhile, GSW is abusing Patty Mills when Sean Livingston is in.  

The playoffs exacerbate these kinds of things. Whereas I usually felt the Spurs had their best shot in out executing other teams, when the opponent does just as good of a job, defends as well, AND has once-in-a-generation talent? Well sometimes you come in second place. 

Here’s looking forward to the playoffs.  

Ooof — Spurs get smoked in GS

Kevin Martin was put in a blender. While this loss wasn’t nearly as awful as the previous, it was another beatdown. While it only means the Spurs can’t win the first seed in real terms, it also means they have somewhat of a psychological hindrance until the late May meeting (presumed) in the WCF. Sure, a home win on Sunday will soothe the collective pride of the fan base, but the Spurs are will now have to win in Oakland if they want to go through the mighty Warriors. And they played poorly both times. 

Last night they had the benefit of a slightly unfocused Warriors team that had some doubts and the turnover yips. Sure, that Minnesota loss likely encouraged them some, but it was evident in the first quarter that whatever focus and resolve it instilled didn’t stop the turnover flood. 

TNT showed a graphic highlighting the Warriors’ defense against the Spurs. Beating the W’s isn’t only about defending them, although that is everyone’s chief concern. It is scoring against them. Unlike all the free-scoring teams we’ve seen (ever), these guys defend. Last year Chuck Barkley dismissed GS as merely a ‘jump-shooting team’, thinking they were the Sieve Suns reincarnated. They have played nearly league-leading defense for two years now. And yes, they can score. 

Tough shooting nights happen but this wasn’t just that. Danny Green was hitting buckets. When the Spurs have off nights those kinds of open shots don’t go in. This was about guys not getting clean looks. Kawhi was out of the offense early, and struggled to get to his spots. Not for not trying, but because he was being defended well early. 

For all the Spurs’ offensive struggles early, they were down only 12. But to these guys, who make blistering runs, that was too much.

I hate to make so much of a regular season game but we all know that this was basically a play-in game for the number 1 seed, however unlikely. All that is left to play for is a perfect home record, which is meaningful

Go For It

The great thing about the Spurs has been the longevity of competitiveness. For the fan, the great vicarious joys have come through championships and acuumulated goals. Timmy Duncan grabbed his 1000th win revelry, for example. These kinds of things are commendable and great and I take great pleasure in lording these accomplishments of our teams over those of other fans’ teams.  

The thing we don’t have — as fans — is an all-time great squad. Whereas the 96 Bulls are rightfully hailed as the greatest team assembled, and last year’s W’s as a good entry into that conversation, and (much to my chagrin) the 2001 Lakers as another one to consider, the Spurs have … this year?

And even this year is a bit tainted by the Warriors. Sure Pop and company don’t really care about that — but you and I aren’t there fighting through the season, focussed on the title. We don’t need to prepare mentally for the Playoffs because we aren’t playing. We are just fans and our sole joy comes from lording over other fans. I mean we are out here living vicariously. Unlike world soccer, we don’t get multiple trophies to brag over, we just have the one thing. Southwest division titles are meaningless, and Best Records are, too. All Time Best Records, however? Well those are a little more valuable. 

Even if the reward only merits a mention on a chryon as the next All Time Great team skips past it, it is something to memorialize our favorite squad in the annals of NBA History. 

The Spurs have two milestones that are within reach that would put this team in the All Time Greatest conversation: 70 wins, and a perfect home record. While the necessity of winning a title to immortalize this squad is mitigated by there being another 70 win team. So they might not even need  to win the title to be considered an All Time Great. I mean, the Bulls merely had 64-win Seattle Squad to compete with.*

So I hope they go for it. Try to make this already-all-time Spurs season an all-time NBA season . . . even more.  

 *wink