WCF Game 4: The Masterpiece
San Antonio 93, Memphis 86
Spurs win series 4-0
The Spurs are remarkably back in the NBA Finals after a 6 year drought. And they got there on the back of perhaps this team’s greatest masterpiece, a work of art that has firm roots in the bitter defeat from this same Memphis team two years ago.
This was a masterpiece of coaching. Pop probably started devising his defensive schemes about 20 minutes after Game 6 in 2011, and for four games the Spurs schemes were relentless and effective. The Grizzlies could never find a counter for the Spurs’ interior defense, and by Game 3 it was clear that Memphis was spooked and mentally unsure of themselves.
But a great scheme is nothing without the players to execute it, and this was a masterpiece in team defense, crisp rotations, a complete mental and physical understanding of everything to do. The Spurs completely dictated everything that Memphis was going to get on offense, and it was never enough.
And a defense is nothing without an anchor, and this was Tim Duncan’s twilight masterpiece, perfectly orchestrating a defense that he knows intuitively.
This was also Duncan’s masterpiece in his race against time, a race he will inevitably lose, but might go further than just about anybody before him. He was routinely out hustling, out thinking, and simply out working his counterparts a full decade younger than him.
This was a masterpiece for the front office, in team building, in recognizing the direction the league was going, and finding the right players for it. While Memphis struggled, being able to field great defensive line-ups, good offensive line-ups, but never both, San Antonio was able to trot out line-up after line-up that could produce at both ends, thanks in part to the acquisition and development of players such as Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph, and Boris Diaw. Every single player on the roster can contribute on both ends (yes, even Bonner and Neal), and that makes this team deadly.
And this was a masterpiece for the role players, every single player doing exactly what is asked of them to near perfection. Splitter played tough interior defense, moved away from the ball expertly on offense, and always contributed when needed; Bonner played tough fronting D, hit his 3-pointers, and was always in position; Diaw was a load in the paint on both ends. Parker and Duncan were able to carry the team, but the strength up and down the roster allows for very little weakness.
This was a masterpiece in offensive execution, in paying attention to every little detail, every little subtlety that makes every difference in the world: screens, ball movement, player movement, passing, executing the game plan, going from good to great, playing within oneself and the system at large. The team was able to consistently execute at a high level against one of the absolute best defenses in the league, stretching them razor thin until they cracked just enough to win each game.
This was a masterpiece in “pounding the rock”, grit and grind before Memphis ever thought to grit or grind. Outside of Game 1, each game was extremely close, and it came down to execution, trust, belief, and pounding that rock, knowing that eventually, Memphis would crack, the Spurs wouldn’t, and the game would be in hand. Twice it took until overtime, but each game, the Spurs were tougher, smarter, more disciplined, and more poised. As Pop and Hollins embraced after the series, Pop said something to the effect of “we just made a few more plays”, implying that the series was a lot closer than the final tally appears. This is true…and this is exactly what pounding the rock is: just making those few extra plays that determine the outcome, every game.
This was a masterpiece in chemistry.
This was a masterpiece in quiet toughness.
And finally, this was Tony Parker’s masterpiece. He’s been one of the best PGs in the league for years, often overlooked. But now, it’s hard not to put him in his rightful spot near the top of any list of any best player. He is at his absolute peak as a player, his mental gifts having caught up to his always present physical gifts, his understanding of the team and the offense so perfect that he is always in complete control while on the court. Memphis did everything it could to stop him, and they never even came close. He had one Game with 18 assists; another with 37 points. He did whatever he wanted, and he completely carved up a superb defense. It was breathtaking.
Sweeps in the Conference Finals are quite rare, and while many people picked the Spurs to win this series, almost nobody expected this. Even the most ardent of Spurs fans have to be shocked by this result. It was the perfect confluence of so many things we’ve loved about this team over the years, and it truly was a masterpiece of a series.
Now what do we have left for an encore?
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