Just Like Old Times
Hey, we won a close game down the stretch using superior execution and chemistry to overwhelm a quality opponent. Who knew we still had it in us?
In all seriousness, winning Game 4 and closing out the 2nd round series in that manner was probably more important than winning another blowout would have been impressive. Like it or not, the tight games are coming, and while the team’s dominance has been almost laugh-out-loud silly for going on a month now, there was a growing concern that the team might not be sharp in winning time with the game on the line. So we got a good rep in against a quality team playing with tremendous passion and energy. We stared the team down, exerted our will, and did what needed to be done.
Before we move on to talking about the Spurs, let’s applaud the Clippers. Last night’s game would have been so easy to roll over and play out the string. Instead, we got the most energetic and healthy version of the team yet. And despite an early 12-point lead, for 47 minutes they played with such energy, passion, and even precision that they probably deserved to win the game. The problem, as you might surmise from the previous sentence, was minute 48, the minute during which the successors and the vanquished are usually separated.
These game recaps seem to be an alternating love fest for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, so let’s just get that out of the way early. Both were great again last night, with Green having the slightly more noticeable game. He’s slowly becoming our most reliable corner 3-point shooter, and his versatile defense stifled Paul in the closing minutes and was instrumental in closing out the game. He more than Leonard reminds me of Bowen, in his ability to just stay glued to an opposing players hip and harass, harass, harass, for the entire 24 seconds of a possession. (Leonard plays remarkable defense, too, but he’s more of an agitator and a playmaker, the type to get a big block or steal.) As Steve Kerr so correctly pointed out, on the very last possession, Green was able to amazingly get back in front of Chris Paul, even after Paul had gotten a 1/2 step past him.
And let’s give some attention to some other of the role players who have been solid. Gary Neal, although playing fewer minutes, is still serving his role as scorer off the bench. He scored 14 points on 7 shots last night in about 15 minutes, which is incredible. And as all Spurs fans know (but most in the national media probably don’t because it doesn’t fit the narrative), he’s so much more than just a 3-point shooter (though he is deadly and confident form that realm, as well). He is a slippery and cunning driver. He also is able to step in on a close out and nail the 15-footer. Basically, every time he shoots, I believe it’s going in.
Tiago Splitter has slowly worked his way back into a normal rhythm. His defense has been a bit unnoticed but quite huge in the playoffs. And when he gets moving in those pick and rolls with Ginobili, it’s still deadly. 11 points from him last night, and every single one was needed.
Stephen Jackson had a quiet series, but I thought he played very well last night in limited minutes. He seemed hesitant on when to shoot, when to drive, and when to pass. But he finally found a bit of a groove as a distributor, and had 4 assists in 15 minutes. What a luxury to have a seasoned veteran backing up Leonard at the 3.
Of course, in our rush to praise the unheralded role player, and try to find the hidden moment or play that helped to turn a game or a series, we often overlook the very obvious. So let’s take a moment to appreciate Tim Duncan. Holy hell is he playing well right now. He just finished putting the Clippers big men (particularly Griffin and Jordan) through a personal little Big Man boot camp. His shooting stroke from 18 feet is better than I’ve ever seen it, he’s moving like he did in his late prime, he’s passing better than ever, orchestrating the offense in clutch situations (see those two back door passes, one to Parker, one to Ginobili? How many big men have the balls and skill to make those?), and still the anchor of a sneakily good defense. Every one else (including MVP vote-getter Tony Parker) is doing what they’re doing because Duncan is Duncan again. He is the soul of the team.
I’m so excited about this team right now, I hardly know what to do with myself. Seriously, I couldn’t fall asleep last night I was so giddy with excitement. The boys over at The Big Fundamental have a few excellent posts along these lines. It’s such a privilege to watch this team right now, like the drive for perfection is more important than winning or losing; or, rather, that the winning and losing will take care of itself, if the game is honored and respected in the most magnificent of ways. There’s not a team left in the post-season (hell, there probably isn’t a team in the entire NBA, regardless) who play as a cohesive unit quite like this. As writer Howard Bryant recently said on the Sports Reporters, it’s “basketball for grown-ups”. (On the same episode, the venerable Bob Ryan said this Spurs team was the most enjoyable since the ’86 Celtics and the ’87 Lakers. That is beyond high praise.) Watching the other games in these playoffs, I can’t believe how unsophisticated every other team’s offense seems in comparison to the Spurs’. The question of “hero” ball doesn’t even matter in San Antonio; the system is the hero, always producing a fantastic shot in any situation.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the next series once we know our opponent, but for now let’s revel in this rather surprising re-birth of our favorite team.
Go Spurs Go.
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