When Adversity Comes
Going into Wednesday night’s game, the Spurs were the only team still undefeated in these playoffs. I’m not going to be so trite as to suggest that we were arrogant and cocky, but I will say this: we seemed complacent. The problem is that you can’t be complacent when playing a team like the Golden State Warriors. They can shock you, quickly. We’re talking about a young team, with a short memory, that can shoot the lights out on any given night. I’ve always believed that you live and die by the three, but these guys have yet to even break their stride.
Our biggest struggle so far has been the first round “bye” we played against the depleted Los Angeles Lakers. I was as excited as the next person to see the Spurs draw the Lakers in the first round. Given our own health concerns, I felt like it would be a breeze for us, and it was. But the bottom line is this: throughout those four games we did not play San Antonio Spurs basketball. We did not look like the San Antonio Spurs team of last February, or of the earlier months of the season, the team that looked unbeatable at times. We played down to a level that complimented the Lakers. And even though they were depleted and weak, we could not count them out because they are still the Lakers.
The San Antonio Spurs I know and love are always counted on to be the San Antonio Spurs, known for solid basketball, good ball movement, quick, smart decisions and solid defense. IThroughout that Lakers series, we focused on the Lakers not being the Lakers, rather than the Spurs being the Spurs. We had the luxury of flying under the radar and not being exposed by a depleted team.
It was great that we won four in a row, but now we’re facing a young, energetic Golden State Warriors team. These guys are good. Really good. They aren’t your father’s Golden State Warriors. They are not scared. And in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they have two kids who just have to be in the gym and they are officially in range.
We won the first game, but it was an awful win. I was jumping up and down screaming in my living room like a 5-year-old and almost lost control of myself. Afterwards I felt stupid when Manu pointed out the obvious: we did not deserve to win that game. I felt really dumb. Then the worry bugs started to squirm in my gut.
There are two ways of looking at the first two games in this series:
1) we can say that it’s a sign of a good team when you can play like crap and still win. We played awful and we swept the Lakers. We played awful and we came back from 16 down with under four minutes left to rally to beat the young, energetic Golden State Warriors in double overtime in the first game. Those are both good things. The problem is that we’re playing a seven game series. We’re not as young as the Warriors and we weren’t able to pull off two giant comebacks within 72 hours.
2) I’m more concerned (and encouraged, strangely) that we are not playing San Antonio Spurs basketball yet. That is also why I’m grateful that we are finally facing legitimate adversity. Now that we’ve lost homecourt advantage, our backs are officially against the wall. We haven’t had any issues in the first round, save Splitter’s ankle. And while the first game win was great for us in the series overall win-loss column, it didn’t help us stop playing bad basketball. Now we find ourselves on the ropes. We have to go into Oracle Arena for two games and hope for, at worst, a split.
I think this is the type of adversity this Spurs team needs. They need to play a little bit on edge, almost scared. They need to play with a bit of urgency and a little bit of panic. 99.9% of the time I don’t agree with Skip Bayless. The one thing I do agree with him is that, for some odd reason, we played better on the road. I watch Tim Duncan’s post-game interview and something he said encouraged me. David Aldrich from TNT asked him how he felt about going into that loud arena on Friday night. Duncan being Duncan, kind of rolled his eyes, paused for a second, and then said basically that they never really care about that kind of stuff. Yeah it’s going to be loud, but they don’t really get caught up in all that kind of stuff.
And that’s my hope in all this craziness right now. I think this adversity can help us in the long run. We could talk about matchups all day long. We could talk about how great these guys are shooting. We could talk about wanting Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard on Steph Curry. We could talk about our shooting percentages, lack of ball movement and lack of assists. We could talk about Warriors getting into the paint anytime they want. We could call Tony Parker a liability on the defensive end right now.
All of that stuff is valid, but it leads us back to the main problem: we’re not playing San Antonio Spurs basketball. And up until this point it’s been acceptable. We’ve been okay getting by with “good enough.” The truth is you can’t win in the playoffs on “good enough.” And if there’s one team that knows it, it’s the San Antonio Spurs.
Let’s also keep in mind, Pop is not worried. Pop has to appreciate what’s in front of him. I’m sure he is enjoying it to an extent. He’s appreciating the fact that there are two kids shooting the lights out, unconsciously at times. He’s appreciating that Steph Curry is going bonkers and that there’s not really anything we can do to stop that. But he is probably pissed that we can do a better job of controlling the tangible things and we aren’t doing them. Things like hustle plays, loose balls and boxing out. You know, the stuff that normally works for us.
I don’t expect too many changes moving forward. As far as match-ups are concerned. But I do expect this team to come out with a sense of urgency. I wouldn’t expect a bubbly Coach Pop at their next practice and I would think a pretty grueling film session is in order. Then again that’s probably not what he will present to the media. I expect him to be “bubbly” with them and talk about how “fun” it all is.
Pop is the one person I want in my corner right now. I also want the greatest Power Forward of all time paired with a top 3 point guard. If only we could package them with a couple years of playoff experience, one of the best benches in the league and a solid road record, we would be fine. If only…
If we can get our heads out of our respective backsides, we’ll be in good shape. Let ESPN throw the baby out with the bath water. Let them be the ones to count us out. As fans of the black and white, we can’t be moved and swayed by any of that. I fully expect to get a “W” in Golden State. It’s going to be allowed to be crazy, to be a riot.
Better shooting isn’t the answer. It either goes in or it doesn’t. More stamina isn’t the answer. Tracy McGrady or Stephen Jackson is not the answer.
Pure, authentic, solid, bust-your-butt San Antonio Spur basketball is the answer. And we may have just found the adversity we needed to get back to playing it.
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