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

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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)

Aftermath

This was the greatest series that I’ve seen. For ESPN talking heads and twitter NBA fans that only check the score via hashtags this counterintuitively legitimizes all the other Finals wins. The Spurs took the defending champs with the best player on the planet to seven games (and nearly squeaked out a win in six). Make no mistake, the Spurs were not the better team. San Antonio’s best player is 31, the same age as Miami’s second-best player. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are 37 and 35-going-on-36. It was through guile and savvy that they nearly stole the series in Game Six with an amazing display of basketball. That the Heat rallied and made a miraculous comeback says more about their ability than it does about any choking. Like San Antonio learned in 2012, sometimes you can’t out scheme youth, athleticism, and talent, even when spotted guts and experience. Yet the fact that the Spurs, Spartan-like, battled and earned the respect of any and everyone does more for their legacy than the sweep of LeBron’s 2007 Cavaliers ever did. Much like I will always remember that Allen Iverson dropped 48-points on the seemingly unbeatable 2001 Lakers more than I will remember that LA wen’t on to win four straight, I will remember the series where we nearly pulled out an improbable win over the favored1 Heat.

There aren’t many things I can rightfully be angry about while being a Spurs fan. It has been a great run for these last sixteen years. Before 1997, there were some solid seasons. Really, all the way back to Ice Man, the Spurs have been good-but-not-great on average. Tremendous. It hasn’t been complete and obvious glory, though. No back-to-backs that get automatic love. No great Finals series before this one against the Heat. No charismatic players to rally around. We have had to learn to love the not-so-obvious stuff: the wedge-roll, the extra-pass, the well-timed close out without fouling. That kind of thing. It isn’t sexy in the traditional sense. The defense-centric teams that won titles early in Tim’s career won respect from insiders but didn’t captivate anyone north of Waco. The NBA titles were met with begrudging acknowledgment. We both remember the slights: The asterisks, the boring label, the small market sneers, the yeah-buts. This series erased all that. It took a herculean effort from the best player in the world and a return to HOF form from the second best player on their team to eliminate our guys. Throw in a HOF last-gasp three pointer from Ray Allen to boot. The Spurs ain’t no chumps and there no one can deny that.

That kind of thing can get you really philosophical. The kind one gets when faced with non-traditional success (like losing in the NBA Finals.) To wit:

The Game Proper

Tim has made that layup thousands of times and missed it hundreds. Narrow it down to important games and he has made that hundreds and missed it dozens. Last night, he missed it. So it goes.

Basketball is a cruel sport. It is a game of trends, of runs, of averages, of reverting to the mean. Sometimes your shot leaves you. You try to stay confident, work hard to get in position, have good form, but it doesn’t matter what you do. Your shot will come back in it’s own time. You stand in all your old favorite places waiting for her to return. For it to be like it was before, when you’d do a rain dance that would barely move the net. Ask Danny Green and Shane Battier. Shane was reunited with his shot at the most opportune time. Danny’s left him sometime in Game Six. What can you do? You do what all the great shooters know to do: keep shooting. Sometime it isn’t just your shot. Sometime it is confidence that disappears. When that is gone you feel like you just learned the game, standing in the middle of the court wondering what the hell you are supposed to do next. Conversely, sometimes you feel like Neo. You see the next five moves; you, the court, the ball, your teammates are all one thing that you can control. It’s awesome. Ask LeBron and Manu. They know.

Basketball is cruel and that’s why they play best of seven and not best of one and that’s what makes Game Six so painful. Danny Green’s run was ending, while LeBron’s and Wade’s were starting again. One more game meant one more shot, one more chance to revert to the mean. Oh you didn’t know that LeBron shot a Nowitski-like career best from midrange and three point range this season? Didn’t know that Miami shot an NBA-record 55% effective field goal percentage? They did. The Spurs’ gamble nearly worked. It was bold, it was savvy. It didn’t work.

Like most things, all you can do is your best. The rest is fate and she can be unkind. The Spurs did their best. Fate was a tiny bit unkind these last two games. So it goes.

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1. Heat were favored by seven going into game six, and six going into game seven. [↩](#fnref:p53519666189-1)

Game One: One Quarter of The Way There

Everything right and everything wrong in one possession. That’s how LeBron summed up Tony Parker’s last-gasp game-winning leaning jumper. It was a great basketball play. It was a great competitor’s play. That’s basketball. Sometimes you get lucky and the ball rolls in. Sometimes it doesn’t. The great thing about the Spurs is the way in which they do so much to control the controllable. That miss wouldn’t have ended things. Timmy talked about how he was positioning himself for the rebound the entire frantic possession.

It was more than that though. They stayed in ideal striking distance throughout. Miami is more talented, more athletic, and well-coached. San Antonio hung around. They didn’t get desperate and play Timmy 48 minutes or try drastic changes in game plans. The role players didn’t shrink from the bright lights of 56 HD cameras and 8 super slow-mo setups that ABC had last night. And right at the end, like any good marathoner, the Spurs sprinted to the finish line, giving the ball to the best player on the team, running their favorite set, and let him make a play.


I’ve noticed a markedly different tone in the Spurs coverage this time around. Instead of the usual, “No really these Spurs aren’t really boring please watch this Finals OMG we are losing so much money” kind of talk we got during 2005 – remember Al Michaels called that series? – this time it’s “Wow. We should really appreciate this team.” It’s great. I’ve been in full-on nostalgia mode for a while now. I said on Air Alamo that this is all gravy post-2007. I thought we had no surprises left, after our HOFer was past his prime. We all had doubts about Tony Parker becoming a go-to player, given his wilting in the all the Finals prior to 20071. Yet here I sit, surprised. I’m sort of giddy, as well. You likely are too. We just beat the defending champs on their home floor with the best player in the world, in his prime, getting a triple-double. We know we can beat those kinds of teams. We beat KD and co. twice last season. Will the Spurs be able to overcome a hyped-up, energetic Heat squad? If the answer is ‘yes’ then the demons from OKC will be exercised. The caveats about Russ Westbrook going down can be erased, or at least reduced to footnotes.


Game Two is so far away. I have got to think that for the Spurs, it will be a good thing. For the Heat, it may be terrible. When you lose, you want to play the next one immediately. The break between games has to be a killer. Speaking of breaks, the nine-day rest for San Antonio didn’t hurt the ball movement – four turnovers! – but it may have impacted their shooting. Those threes – especially from Kawhi– coulda/woulda gone in and changed this game tremendously. Good news: those were just misses, and not scaredy-short armed threes. The ball was whipped around and shots were fired with confidence, wide open and in rhythm. That is all you can realistically ask for.

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1. Truth be told: he wasn’t super-special against the Cavs. He was the guy scoring the most that series, but the offense ran through Timmy still (averaged 22.2 ppg in the playoffs). It was the only series where Timmy wasn’t the leading scorer. [↩](#fnref:p52385999860-1)