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So This is What a Vacation in May Feels Like

By Jeff Koch on April 30, 2009.

And thus the season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Giving little resistance to inevitability, fatigue, and the Mavs, we quietly walked away from the playoff stage.

There’s little need to give analysis of last night’s game. The writing was on the wall; we all knew we were outmanned and outplayed this series. Credit the Mavs. They are playing brilliantly right now, and are coalescing in a way that no other Mavs team of the past ever has. They whooped us, and they earned every win.

Pop searched in vain to find combinations of players that would give us a spark. He went very defense heavy last night, playing Udoka, Hill, and Thomas beau coup minutes, while giving Mason, Jr., Bonner, and Gooden (DNP-CD) precious few. But the team (save Parker and Duncan, who played brilliantly and refused to go without a fight) was resigned to its fate, and played without the proper aggression or passion needed in a close out game.

It’s very clear what was lacking for the Spurs this postseason (besides the obvious “a healthy Manu Ginobili”)–role players stepping up, those unsung heroes of playoff lore.

To achieve success in the postseason, you need superstars playing as superstars do. Only the Detroit Pistons of 2004 can say they’ve won a title without a superstar (and, in retrospect, they seemed more the beneficiary of a Lakers team falling apart at every seam). You have to have an otherworldly player on your roster.

But you need role players stepping into the spotlight, if only for a series or a game or just a solitary moment. You need those games that make people wonder “who is this guy?” The Mavs had plenty of those this series. JJ Barea is the most obvious. But Erick Dampier played well; Ryan Hollins may have been the difference in pivotal Game 4. And even Josh Howard was able to sustain continued excellence, something he’s been unable to do in the past.

The Spurs, contrarily, had nothing. We had no other player step up in the slightest for us, save Bowen. All of our shooters lost their touch simultaneously. Even the reliable Thomas was shaky. Udoka played solid D, but could add nothing for us on offense, ultimately making him a liability. Hill seemed to be the only player ready to step up, but was given precious time to do so.

It’s particularly hard to witness this lack of production from the role players, as Spurs’ past is littered with just such players. Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, Michael Finley have all given us big, career-defining moments in the cauldron of the playoffs.

Where do we turn now? As the Spurs embark on their longest vacation in almost 10 years, they have a lot of questions looming into next season and beyond. Many are writing the team off, pronouncing the King to be dead. But I say there’s still some fight in this team; long live the King.

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  1. Andy Norris May 1, 2009

    Writing off the Pistons as a fluke as a mistake. They came within a hair’s breadth of beating us in 2005 for the repeat. That’s not a fluke.

    I would say, rather, that they are the exception that proves the rule. How often do teams come along with no great player, but absolutely perfect chemistry, and a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts? Once in several decades, apparently.

  2. secretchord53 May 1, 2009

    Haha. You’re probably right. I actually really admired and rooted for those Pistons teams, and they were the strongest team the Spurs ever faced in the Finals, obviously.

    However, I think it’s safe to say, in retrospect, that the Pistons caught that Lakers team at the right moment, as everything was falling apart around them (and without a healthy Karl Malone). Would the Pistons have beaten that Lakers team a few weeks earlier and with a healthy Malone? Maybe, but it definitely wouldn’t have been in 5 games. It’s quite clear at that point the Lakers had all quit on each other and were no longer playing as a team, and the Pistons, playing exceptional team ball, pounded them for it.

    The next year they made the finals, but lost to us. For the next few years, they reached the conference finals, but lost them all, even being favored in most. And every team they lost to had a bona fide superstar on their roster.

    So maybe they are the exception that proves the rule. Or maybe they could have gone even further with a superstar somewhere in there. (No, I don’t count Iverson as a superstar).

    But it was nice to see Sheed play to his potential for a few years.


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