Game 3: A Star is Born

Stephen Jackson was a fan favorite. He was tough. He had length and could shoot. Going into last year’s postseason, although he wasn’t playing well, he presumably would be a big part of the Spurs’ run. He’d probably match up against KD or LeBron (if it came to that).

He got cut.

Essentially, the argument was that Stephen Jackson didn’t think he should have taken a back seat to Kawhi Leonard, whom the Spurs were very high on. Although KL had shown some really nice signs of his future potential, it was only evident to the coaches, apparently.

He had his breakout moment(s) in the Finals, where he showed he could guard LeBron, and had some offense. Tonight, however, we are seeing the things Pop saw in his Pop Crystal Ball last year. Leonard’s freakish length shortens the gap (somewhat) between LeBron’s otherworldly athleticism and the Spurs’ solid defense. His shooting, and ever-expanding offense were the difference tonight.

But you knew that.

Everyone wants the guy to take the next step and take over. He is doing it at his own pace. The fact that he breaks out the new stuff1 in the Finals is fine by me. The fact that he does it against the best player in the world is also perfectly okay. Lots of old-time Spurs fans remember teams that did the opposite2. His shooting and aggressiveness underpinned the Spurs unreal ball movement and overall incredible effort in that ridiculous first half3.

Normally, we’d all sit here and say “well, the Spurs can’t play like that every game.” But they can. They ripped off a 35-9 run in the fourth quarter in game one. They ripped off a quarter or three like this – though not at NBA-record setting level – throughout this playoff run. The scary thing is that LeBron can drop 35 points on his own like he did in Game 2.

And that’s the matchup. LeBron vs Spurs. It’s a rematch of 2007 again, with a significant upgrade in the cast of characters on the King’s side. The difference this game was that Miami’s best player was also their most turnover prone. If Mario Chalmer’s wasn’t busy locking up the LVP award, you could make the argument that LBJ was one of the biggest reasons that Miami lost4.

Still, this win was about desperation and returning to moving the ball. As good as the Kawhi’s game was, he isn’t a guy Pop can toss the ball to and let go to work. Tony still has a little bit of that ability, Manu in ever-decreasing-in-frequency spurts. Pop says they must move the ball or they die. That death-avoiding desperation was evident. Now it is Miami’s turn to dance with desperation.

Random Thoughts

  1. If it weren’t for Rashad Lewis, Miami might be down 3-0. That said, if not for Diaw, the Spurs might have been out in the first round.
  2. Timmy got stripped in the lane a ton. Seems like Miami was looking for a way to defend TD down low after getting pwned by him on rolls and post-ups.
  3. WTF Bobby Ramos? You won (by losing) the press conference.
  4. Tim Duncan in the press conference on Kawhi Leonard: “I thought he had a lot of work to do. But Pop and the guys saw something in him.” I like the idea of asshole Tim Duncan. Call it Ultra Focused On Winning Tim if you want. It’s great either way.
  5. That was the most tense 25 point lead I’ve watched. Damn. Early leads are scary leads.
  6. I fully expect a regression to the mean and all, but I’m hoping against a terrible shooting performance to balance that out.
  7. Gah. Third Quarters and Free Throw shooting. The worst. The WORST.

Notes

* * *

1. His point total (29 points) was a career high for an NBA game – regular season or playoffs. [↩](#fnref:p88449115197-1)

2. Ask my mom about Rod Strickland [↩](#fnref:p88449115197-2)

3. 75.8%!!! 71 Points!!! [↩](#fnref:p88449115197-3)

4. Aside from ridiculous shooting by the Spurs, of course. Also, Gawd. I’m sure we’ll hear a never-ending stream of LBJ hate that will be terrible to endure. Can’t wait for the next game already. [↩](#fnref:p88449115197-4)

Game 2: LeBronning

I was at The Cove the other night, eating a burger and listening to some local band. They took a break and the guitarist said “I’m cramping!”. The rest of the band proceeded to carry him off the stage a la Lebron James in Game 1. It was funny. Sports is supposed to be fun and it’s hella fun to make jokes at your rival’s expense. The worst thing about the last few days between games has been not the overreaction to LeBron’s cramping, but the reaction to that. It has been the caping up for LeBron. Having some fun with the dude – a non-life threatening injury at that – isn’t the worst thing that happens on the internet. Look at the racist, sexist, homophobic stuff that goes on and then come back and tell me that the people pretending they have a LeBron cramp are the worst on the internet.

That said, tonight LeBron actually did some #LeBronning. He proceeded to drop 35 points on a Spurs team putting up a solid defensive effort. The rest of the Heat only had 3 assists (one of which was Chris Bosh’s game-sealing pass to D Wade with 9 seconds left). The heat won on the strength of LeBron James’ otherworldly talent overcoming all of the excellent execution from the Spurs.

And that is mostly it. Ten or fifteen years from now, that’ll be what people talk about. Such is the reductive nature of sports history. San Antonio played a typical Spurs game – with some incomplete quarters and missed free throws to boot – and came up short thanks to the incredible play of LeBron – with great play by the champs.

The good news? LeBron James, despite all his talent, isn’t likely to cash fadeaway three balls on incredible defense from Kawhi Leonard and well now that I think about it that is the only thing the Spurs can hope for. Next game the Heat players will presumably play outside of their minds. Danny Green called the shots LBJ made “ones we can live with.” LeBron called them “uncontested”. Basketball is a game played to the offense’s advantage. Presumably, a player can get good enough to drain half-court jumpers and there is little the defense can do about it. So when the most athletic and dangerous player on the Heat can step back and rain threes there is little in the way of hope for the Spurs.

Miami likely felt similarly when Patty Mills and company combined to drain nine (9) threes in the second half.

How Should We Feel?

I say you should feel okay. The fun thing about playoff basketball is how often the Narrative gets broken or rewritten. How much talk about athleticism was there while the Spurs were winning in Oklahoma in game six? Wasn’t that the Unresolvable Problem the Spurs would have to face?

Similarly, the Spurs’ execution is praised when they win – or in quarters where they are ripping off gif-able sequences – but ignored when they put up 20+ turnovers – which has happened. That is basketball. It is a game of runs and trends and overreaction to those things. I’d say that the Spurs organization’s secret has not been some keen eye into the game, but recognizing it for what it is. They don’t overreact (like Twitter does) and they don’t stray from the process. You know those last nine or so possessions where the Heat played incredible defense and made game one’s 31-9 run look like an anomaly? Well we’ll likely see those same sets and those same plays next game. Hopefully we’ll see different outcomes.

So it goes.

The Rematch Game 1

So how about that AC? I had no idea what the hell was going to happen in this game beforehand. I predicted Spurs by 7, and then winning the series in 6. You can probably say this game was lost by the Heat when LeBron couldn’t continue in the fourth quarter. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, as Danny Green and the Spurs were … ahem …heating up in the fourth quarter on their way to a 31-9 run.

Put me in the camp that says dealing with ridiculousness is part of the game. The game includes injuries, water cannons, bats, and the AC going out. That isn’t to say that LeBron should have toughed it out or some other ridiculous bullshit. When I joke on the twitters about sports I do so fully acknowledging that I cannot and never could play at that level. From an NBA-fan standpoint it obviously is lame that the best player couldn’t perform in crunch time, with the game close. Again, that’s the game. Someone tell Derek Rose about being unlucky.


I don’t know about calling this Game 8. I do know that it wasn’t two teams feeling each other out like Game 1 of the 2013 Finals was. So maybe it is kind of Game 8. There is a decidedly different vibe going into this one, from a Spurs fan perspective. Sure, the plaudits for the team’s two-decade run were repeated, but this time there was a little bite. I like it. The Spurs’ run has been amazing compared to the Clevelands of the world but not necessarily better than the Bulls of the 90s, the Lakers of the 80s, or the Celtics of the 50s. I’m happy for the Spurs to be in that conversation.

The first half, with all of Manu’s energy and shot-making felt like a revenge movie. Everyone gave Manu a eulogy after he played 1 good game out of 7 to end the last Finals, after underwhelming in the playoffs. The Spurs’ inability to win post-2007 can in some ways be explained by Manu’s inability to be healthy in the post-season. Not only is he heather now, but he doesn’t have to do as much as Kawhi Leonard has grown offensively.

That’s a long way of saying that it was good to see him back in 2007 form. He admitted in the halftime interview that he faded a bit. Given that he was the only looking crisp offensively, that didn’t portend good things for the second half, five point lead notwithstanding.

All that said, we would have had a very different game if that air conditioning was working. LeBron said he felt like he played the entire game when he was subbed out in the middle of the third quarter. “They are trying to smoke us out.”

The only dude that was impervious to suffocating temperatures was Ray Allen, the ageless one, who finished three drives in the third that put the Heat up, including a dunk in traffic on a fast break. I let out a “WTF.” The Spurs had their 18th turnover or thereabouts at that time. The offense looked like it did vs the Mavericks. Nine TOs in the third quarter, ya’ll. Some of that was the Heat, some of it was the heat, and some was just trends. The Spurs have had some awful third periods this playoff season.

That fourth quarter belonged to Danny Green and LeBron James’ thigh cramps. Say what you will about how you would react etc, that means nothing when your leg is killing you. Still, the Spurs unleashed a fourth quarter that was reminiscent of the ones they put up against OKC and PDX. Danny Green got open, hit some shots, and even got a score in transition. The coolest thing about those shots? They were wide open ones that came from beautiful passes. Passes that weren’t so pretty in the third. Manu said they were sloppy in the first three – 20 turnovers in the first three quarters. “They are more athletic than us. Waiting 15 seconds for a pick and roll makes it harder.”


Know that this means nothing. The Spurs won game one in Miami last year. They lost the series. The Spurs jumped up on OKC in the first two games. After game four the entire fan base was ready to throw in the towel. We all know Miami will make some adjustments. We know the AC guys will make some too. LeBron likely won’t need to be carried off the floor and definitely won’t be looking for substitutions halfway into the third quarter.

Basketball Super Bowl

There is nothing like a game seven. It is known. The NBA gets a terrible rap for being a league of loafers (it is more akin to guys running a marathon than being lazy) and so for casual folks, seeing two teams fueled by desperation and finality is enthralling. Whereas I have a higher appreciation for the Association, I empathize with these folks. I’ll pretty much watch any Championship-deciding game. Drama!

If the Spurs are anything like me1 they are feeling pretty good today. All punches-to-the-gut heal in time. That time can be a day-plus. You know this as well as I do. Any loss, to a brother, friend, HS rival, blue-haired lady at the bingo hall, puts an ugly feeling inside you that can only be completely removed by a win. Sure, time will heal that would up but it will leave a scar. These losses are like snake bites in that the only real way to guarantee a full return to mental health is to quickly act. Those mixed metaphors are meaning to say it is good that we are playing so soon after, in the same place, with the same guys.

Kenny Smith, TNT Analyst tells the story of how the Suns came back on his Rockets and erased a 20 point lead to win a playoff game twice. Houston felt terrible, were angry and disappointed. Then they remembered how easy it was to get up 20 points. Similarly, after all the self-reflection, cathartic sharing of terrible losses during late night meals, and poetry writing (wild guess), the Spurs have to be thinking to themselves “Wow, we got up 10 points (and 5 etc) in the fourth quarter in a must-win game against the best player on the planet and his sidekick with the misspelled first name.”[^2}. The question remains: can the Spurs muster the requisite physical energy to win this game? That is the big question. They may be mentally ready, but sometimes you just can’t overcome playing 40+ minutes when you are 37-years-old.


Re: The Worst Spurs Loss Ever.

I don’t consider this one the worst. Though I had a similar feeling to Game 7 vs Dallas in 2006, after Manu fouled Dirk and the Mavericks dominated OT, that was In-Their-Prime Spurs. Expectations were higher. This team was expected to limp out at the hands of Memphis/OKC/Denver. I maintain that life post-2007 has been a bowl of gravy. I don’t have nearly the same level of hate for the Heat as I did the Mavericks. No one on Miami punched any of our guys in the nads, ya’ll. No one there made fun of the River Walk. It just isn’t the same.


Re: Illegal Substitution

The fan o’ drama inside me would have loved to see them replay the final 5.2 seconds tonight with Miami’s prize being an immediate game 7. A psuedo-NBA FInals double header! If the Spurs would have won, we’d have seen all those Miami attendees got home sooo disappointed. I’m cruel. I would have loved that.


Re: Finals Ratings

People are fickle, don’t know much about basketball, and are sheep. This explains everything that is popular on television. In the same vein, this is the reason that there are unattended quality football and basketball games being played in your local area. _Ahem__UTSA_

Go Spurs Go.

* * *

1. Slow, rec-league-caliber desk jockey, confined to his halficle for 8 hours a day, who looks forward to Starbucks and Taco Tuesday. No? Nothing like that at all? MMkay. [↩](#fnref:p53443728146-1)