Game 4: Paul’d

We all know it is a little strange being a San Antonio Spurs fan. They haven’t won titles the conventional way. No back-to-backs, no media darlings, no pretty basketball (for the first three titles).

The Spurs have been counted out a few times in the course of the Duncan reign. Hell, they were done after getting dumped by the Mavericks in the first round in 2009, and swept by the suns in 2010. They were too old to hang with teams like the Grizz in 2011. Then not ready for the new breed OKC in 2012. Then missed their window in game 6 in 2013.

The Spurs have won one title in the last seven years. So has Boston. The two franchises are in vastly different spots. The Heat won two titles, same with the Lakers. Where are they now? Garbage squads.

The above is a long way around of saying that I still believe the Spurs have enough to oust the Clippers. Their athleticism was always going to give the Spurs trouble, because it is in the right spots. The Heat had athleticism, but it was on the outside where we could mitigate that. One reason SA struggled so much with OKC the last three years was Serge Ibaka dominating inside. The Spurs offense creates shots at the rim and from three. But when teams have a guy like Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin that can recover from mistakes with such ferocity, that creates a problem.

On the other end, Chris Paul is playing like he did in 2009 when he destroyed the Spurs in three games. Yeah, he’s been on bad teams for his nine years, but he’s still very good.

It would be nice if Tony Parker was keeping pace with him but instead he was missing clutch free throws in game 4. The hope was that the game three blowout would have given Tony and Manu (and Tim, to a lesser extent) the rest they needed to essentially close this thing out in Game 4.

Instead, Tony was still laboring to score1, and Manu was giving away the ball and three-point plays. 2 While I don’t see that changing dramatically in the next few games I don’t see Austin Rivers balling out nor Danny Green continuing to struggle.

Manu called Austin Rivers’ big game a “surprise” but owned up to the mistakes. I still believe. Doc Rivers said he loves the ebb and flow of a playoff series. I don’t. I hate it. It really does feel like your team will never win again after a playoff loss. And losing two games in a row is the difference between a 3-2 advantage going home and a 2-3 deficit must-win.

The biggest concern wasn’t necessarily the defense allowing 34 points from Chris Paul. Nor was it the surprise from Austin Rivers, as he got some good looks against Patty Mills, who despite his contributions, isn’t going to win that 1v1 battle.

No, the biggest concern was the 24% from three. Danny Green 0-fered. He wasn’t really doing much defensively, either. With Kawhi shouldering the scoring, the Spurs will need Danny to defend better, and be the guy that tore up the Finals two years ago. Else, what is he doing that Marco can’t?

Speaking of Kawhi Leonard, he is awesome. He was torched tonight by the combination of Chris Paul and JJ Redick but he was also 10-19 for 26 points. Again, he can’t be expected to pick up the offensive slack while still locking down the other team’s perimeter guys. Danny Green and company need to hit shots.

If we want KL to be LBJ, he can’t be guarding the best player the entire night. Simple as that.

See you again on Tues night.

* * *

1. Sure, he had 18. He was better but still not where the Spurs need him to be. [↩](#fnref:p117475548557-1)

2. We are getting all the bad Manu with nearly none of the good. [↩](#fnref:p117475548557-2)

Who Scares The Spurs Fan?

I am scared of scoring point guards. I have nightmares of Monta Ellis scampering into the lane, flipping up impossible layups beyond the outstratched arms of Timothy and Tiago. As my friend commented to me today: “The Mavericks can suck all season but they’ll always play better against us.” This is true. The only thing that taints last season’s beutiful sojourn through the NBA playoffs was the seven-game scare agains the Dallases.

I’m scared of Dame Lillard doing a Monta impression and playing much better than he did in last year’s Spurs-Blazers matchup and making the difference.

I’m scared of Kyrie Irivng replicating his ridiculous shooting night in March.

I’m not so scared of Steph Curry. Not in the same way. Sure he was ridiculous against everyone all season, and was equally amazing agains the Spurs a couple of years ago, but I think Kawhi can handle him, and I think the rest of the Spurs can handle the Dubs’ length.

Sure, Golden State is the best we’ve seen in years (since Jordan’s Bulls in ‘96, by all accounts) but this isn’t the 90s, Curry isn’t Jordan, and Kerr isn’t Phil Jackson.

I can certainly imagine a WCF matchup in which the Warriors flex their muscles and entertain the league. Were the Spurs not my favoritest team evar, I’d certainly be rooting for that scenario.

Maybe the Spurs really are like the Patriots, and will win yet again, spoiling the fairy tale of yet another fan favorite team. (Looking at you 2004-2005 Phoenix Suns.) I’d certainly like that.

Still maybe I should be scared of James Harden but I’m not.

Can’t wait for the Playoffs.

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 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.

Jinx!

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, an NBA guy that I kind of respect (in that he seems like a smart guy with smart opinions but I don’t have the time to read everything he writes) said this on the twitter machine

Experts are browbeating the public: YOU DON’T GET HOW GOOD THE SPURS ARE. Well, if they lose, maybe the public got something right

He received some nice counter-arguments, but really, no one cares. That is the crux of the argument. No one has cared, no one will care. Any experts “browbeating” the public are just playing Contrarian Guy and not even a good one at that. I mean, the Spurs have the number one seed throughout so really, how contrarian is it to pick them? 

Any ambivalence about the team stems from both our frustratingly successful regular seasons the past two years and the terrible playoff performances the last four years (lost in five in the conference finals to LA, lost in five to the Mavs in the first round, swept by the Suns in the second round, lost to eighth-seeded Grizzlies in six). So Ethan has a decent enough point. 

What kind of recognition is deserved? Not much. The small market factor is a problem. There isn’t any reason to talk about San Antonio until absolutely necessary. Commentary on the outpost is only good for building obscure credibility. Even then, it isn’t even cool NBA blogger style to like the Spurs anymore. It’s like liking Portlandia as a hipster – it’s kind of a requirement to appreciate the Spurs’ professionalism and work ethic and execution and Tim Duncan’s consistency and Manu’s whatever and Tony Parker’s sort of MVP season. 

We get it. We don’t even mind anymore. We don’t need to be the hot chick anymore, guys. Haven’t we done this dance already? Haven’t we had these conversations lots of times since 1999, the last lockout season? 

Yep. 

Still, it would be pretty damned awesome to beat up on another upstart youngin’ sporting LA colors in the second round to bookend Timmy’s career. This one would also have journeymen players and a guy who was let go and came back. Then it was Sean Elliot, now it is Stack Jack. We won’t be shutting down the Great Western Forum in back-to-back games three and four this time, though we might be turning out the lights on Lob City in a similar situation.

But maybe it won’t be easy. Maybe it will be ugly. That has also been the underreported hallmark of this decade. Unlike the Bulls, Lakers, and Rockets, the Spurs haven’t looked dominant for any stretch. We’ve just been consistently competitive. It is weird. The window should have closed about five years ago. It hasn’t. We’ve never won a back-to-back and it doesn’t look like we will anytime soon. We’ve only had one dominant run through a playoff bracket. In 1999 there was the shortened season that made Phil talk about asterisks. In 2007, the Warriors denied a revenge series rematch with the Maverick team that beat us in Game 7 the year previous. 

Yet still there are four championship banners hanging and dammit that looks like a dynasty.

I’ve learned to accept the snubs, the doubts, and the lack of attention. It’s only odd that I didn’t do it sooner. 

You know what, though? This is sure feeling like another special run and I have tickets to  Game 1 on Tuesday. 

Go Spurs Go. 

Playoff Basketball, Spurs, and Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose is lost for the rest of the year. Obviously this is terrible. Obviously this destroys their chances. Obviously I don’t care as much as I would if it were Timmy Duncan. 

That is the awesome thing about being in my 20s rather than my teens. Injuries to star players don’t feel like the catastrophic events that they used to. When Tim hurt his knee in 2000, and the Spurs attempted to defend the title with just D-Rob and spares, I actually felt like I had to defend my honor against accusations of flukeness. Like I was out there tossing up bricks. I’d listen to terrible late-night call in shows where I am addressed as “SPURS FAN”. As in, “Spurs Fan, you gotta get in here and defend yourselves. I mean, what was that god-awful performance?! You should be ashamed of yourself." 

You know. 

Remember the next few years? Oh hell. The Spurs put up all-time great seasons … and all time great collapses against the Lakers. More ego crushes. Except that we continued to put a squad out there. We kept competing. Eventually we won a championship but even that was slightly tainted by never going back-to-back. Like that matters.

Last season, when we all had the Spurs pencilled in as also-rans, they kept putting up wins and effort that I don’t know how to react to. Then they got stomped and I really felt like it was all over. There was no way they could put out a team around and aging Duncan and a fragile Manu, right? Who is gonna save us? Tony Parker??!

In my old Air Alamo season preview (where you can find all my early season posts under DELETE. LOL) I said we were going to end up going out in the playoffs to the Thunder in the second round after a decent-but-not-great year. 

Shows that my predictions are spurious.