Why a Spurs title will put a bow on one of the great modern era dynasties.Follow @jasonkuok
Focus. The definitive description of the no nonsense Spurs following their Western Conference Finals series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107. As quick as the celebrations as once again being crowned the Western Conference champs was over, the attention immediately shifted to what has been on each Spurs players and coach Greg Popovich’s mind the past 12 months. Beat the Heat. For all the hurt and pain they endured last season, not only a championship but a championship against the Heat would be sweet revenge for this Spurs team, giving Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich the ultimate satisfaction of ending their dynasty the way they would have always wanted throughout the last two decades – as winners.
You see it through the media bites which rarely come from the Spurs camp, with Duncan saying he’s “glad” it’s the Heat again and that this time the Spurs will “do it”. As a basketball fan, I cannot remember anything being quotable about the Spurs at all, except for the curt one-word exchanges between Craig Sager and Greg Popovich. You can immediately feel how much this means for Duncan. Arguably the smartest big man to ever play the game, because through his 17 years he knows that back to back Finals trips are not handed out every day (contrary to what Norris Cole may think!). He knows that they blew it last season in Game 6, and with the enormous slap on the hardwood in Game 7 the doubts upon doubts mounted as to if they could possibly have another chance. Through the fortitude coach Greg Popovich spoke of in his post-game press conference, the Spurs found a way. And now Duncan and Pop have their chance, possibly their last chance.
A Spurs title could very likely see both Duncan an Pop walking away from the game. Five time champs, a legacy of building a team-first franchise, unselfishness, international players, no-hype or hoopla. It would be the greatest send off the pair could hope for.
Standing in the way of this fairy tale ending is LeBron James, who is more than ever the linchpin to Miami’s success. Just as precarious the health of San Antonio’s aging roster is to their title hopes, the LeBron’s supporting cast is to the Heat’s. Chris Bosh must consistently make his threes and long jumpers (given his unwillingness to post up) to help spread the floor. Dwayne Wade needs to continue to provide his devastating cuts through the lane off of James’s play making and keep the Spurs’s wing defense honest. One of the wildcards for the Heat need to come up trumps in at least one of the games: Ray Allen, Shane Battier or Rashard Lewis; and have the Mike Miller-like performance as per previous years. LeBron needs his teammates more than ever this time around.
In turn, the Spurs need health and adaptive lineup/defensive tweaks to win. Tony Parker’s hamstring injury during last season’s Finals definitely hampered his effectiveness throughout the series. He’s in a battle against time to recuperate from a sprained ankle suffered in Game 4 of the Thunder series. Needless to say, Ginobili and Duncan also have to be at a high level at a minimum for the Spurs to have a chance. As opposed to last season, this Spurs unit is deeper, with Pop having played a 10 man rotation all season. How the Spurs lineup small against the Heat will be of great interest, yet they definitely have a multitude of options at the 5 to adapt to defensive styles or rotations. Bonner to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for Parker, Diaw to create mismatches in the post, and Splitter to provide additional rim protection against James and Wade penetration. It is a much better situation as opposed to last season. Kawhi Leonard is the natural assumption for LeBron, but as with the OKC defensive scheme where Leonard defended Westbrook for the majority of Game 6, maybe the Spurs employ the Jordan Rules mantra of shutting down every but James and zeroing Leonard on Wade.
The Spurs this year have options against one of the greats in James that it did not have a year ago. They have depth and home court advantage. That’s why we’ll be seeing The Big Fundamental and Pop sharing one of the greatest moments in the modern NBA era. Hugging as confetti rains down, champs once again and champs into the sunset.
Spurs in 7.