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WCF Game 6: 20,000 Roads I Went Down, Down, Down And They All Led Me Straight Back Home To You

By Jeff Koch on June 1, 2014.

San Antonio 112, Oklahoma City 107 (OT)
San Antonio Wins Series 4-2

One demon slayed; one remaining.

I’m not even sure if I can think about this game analytically, let alone write about it. It exists (for many of us, I’m sure) as pure emotion. Finally getting that win in OKC, the Spurs personal house of horrors; letting the lead slip away late (a la another Game 6), only to win it in OT (slaying a Game 6 mini-demon in the process) on the back of–who else–Tim Duncan; so many plays and moments that cry out to be memorialized, relived and rewatched forever in awe; playing the second half without Parker, basking in the triumph of the team and the system, reveling in the moment, but worrying about the immediate future of his injured ankle; and finally getting back to the NBA Finals, a dream of redemption an entire year in the making.

We’ll discuss that improbably scaled mountain soon. First, let’s look back across the terrain of Game 6 and see if we can make some sense of it.

Much like the consumption of the game was pure emotion, much of the performance was pure intensity and energy. There were moments of brilliance each way, and moments of blunder each way. When we talk about the game being ‘great’, though, we’re talking about just how hard both sides competed. This is playoff basketball at its best, the spirit of competition. You could see it in the contest of every rebound (I know the Spurs are locked in when the guards are falling back to help defensive rebound), the feet moving on defense, the quick twitch of hands flicking in and out of dribbles and passing lanes, creating deflections and loose balls and steals, Manu’s crazy solid defense on Durant, a man 10 years younger and 7 inches taller.

When games are reduced to passion, its often the team with a core intelligence that will succeed. We all know the Spurs’ system, the operating language of the whole machine, second nature to most of the roster by now. The system is the star, and the star allows the team to succeed. It is rote to say that ‘the team with the best player often wins a series’, but what happens when a team’s best player is its system? Does that count? Is the Spurs’ system better than Kevin Durant and Russell Westrbook? The answer, for this season, is ‘yes’.

The system has been honed and tweaked over many years, and each player has found his place in it. The reason we saw the team explode in the second half without Parker is because Parker, on a hobbled ankle, is a detriment to the system. The system was largely created around Parker’s speed and creativity and ability to break down defenses; when he loses that ability, the team suffers. Plug in Joseph or Mills, and the team shifts and re-focuses, and adapts to the abilities of those players. We need a healthy Parker to compete in a series agains the Heat, but a hobbled Parker was hurting the team in one game against the Thunder.

When Parker goes down, Pop is not afraid to start Joseph in his stead. Nor is he afraid to give Bonner minutes in a critical game. Need to kill a few minutes with Marco, Patty, Manu, and Danny? OK, he can do that. Pop used the regular season as line-up mash-up, putting just about every conceivable combination out there to see what he had, what he could count on, and when he could go to it. He did that for this very reason: if he needed to spot Duncan 5 minutes of rest in the 4th quarter of a Game 6 on the road with Parker injured. He thinks of everything; he covers everything.

One thing that gets overlooked in all of this talk about system is the individual players, and just how smart they need to be to play in it. It’s not by accident that every player is an adept and willing passer, a smart cutter, and an unselfish player. There is so much to know to run what the Spurs run, and these players not only know it but know it so well that it happens instinctually, a natural reaction to what everybody else is doing on the court. That is complex and requires an intelligence and creativity that athletes don’t often get credit for. As Perkins said after the game, the Spurs just plain outsmarted the Thunder. It matters.

A year ago I thought it was a blessing for this team I love to get another trip to the NBA Finals after many of us thought it would never get there again. After the agony and the ecstasy, a year later we stand on the same precipice with different feelings. We belong here, we’re not here in jest; we’re here to reclaim what we lost in heartbreak last season. We’ve waited a year for this opportunity–one that we had very little chance of getting. We were so near the summit, only to tumble all the way to the bottom. The team gathered itself, looked up, looked around, dusted itself off, and started the ascent again. So many would have given up, not even tried. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of this team to be back here. We’ve come so far, but the real work is now ahead of us. Only 4 more wins, but the 4 hardest wins of the entire journey.

I’m sure the Spurs feel the same way.

Go Spurs Go.

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