A Meaningful First-Round Sweep

"On to the next round, men!"

When I use the term meaningful in this context, I refer to the sort of stupid little fan minutia in which I specialize. To wit: this series is the fifth playoff matchup between the Spurs and the Jazz. The Jazz won the first three series - 3-1 in 1994, 4-2 in 1996, and 4-1 in 1998 - and the Spurs won the last one in 2007, four games to one. When the Spurs finished off the Jazz tonight, they closed the series gap to three to two - but we'll be all square at twelve games a piece. I'm glad it happened this way, and I wonder if Frank Layden and Jerry Sloan were joined in the stands by Karl Malone and John Stockton. Those rotten, cheating (your expletive here) never could sweep us - not even in their most rotten, cheating glory days. I'm glad the Jazz are rockin' the old school jerseys these days - it sweetens the sweep a little more.

But enough of my inane bookkeeping. There are a few interesting things about this Spurs sweep, as it turns out.

If the narrative-makers at ESPN and elsewhere had a lick of sense, they'd start greasing the wheels for a Western Conference Finals showdown between our San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. I'm not saying they should abandon their naked lust for large market basketball. Heavens, no; I'm not a heretic. But instead of offering up the usual grudging/backhanded compliments after the fact, they can start talking now about the intriguing possibilities a Spurs-Thunder matchup would provide: there's the Clash of Organizational Brilliance angle. There's the Battle of the Humble, Soft-Spoken Superstars angle. There's the Sam Presti Versus RC Buford angle. There's the Youth Versus Experience angle. (Yes, the Spurs aren't as old as everyone thinks and the Thunder already have lots of experience, but these talking points don't have to be accurate - they just have to resonate with the casual fan)

What does this have to do with sweeping the Utah Jazz, you ask? Well, if everything followed the script, the Conference Finals would be contested by the #1 and #2 seeds in each conference. We're not going to get that in the Eastern Conference, but the top two seeds in the Western Conference have yet to lose a game. At this point, the Spurs aren't competing with Utah at the moment - they're competing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City swept the defending champions in their first-round series by a combined 26 points; the Spurs won game two alone by 31 points. The Silver and Black won their four games by a combined 64 points. You are reading that correctly - the Spurs' first-round point differential is more than double Oklahoma City's.

But OKC took down the defending champs! That would be the expected rejoinder, anyway. And yes, the Mavericks were battling to defend their title - but a title, however wonderful, is an intangible thing. In the realm of cold, hard facts, were the 2012 Dallas Mavericks nearly three times better than the 2012 Utah Jazz?

Rather than give you my opinion, I'll first let some basic metrics tell the story:

Utah Jazz

Dallas Mavericks

36-30

W-L

36-30

0.92

SRS

1.78

106.8

ORtg

103.3

106.1

DRtg

102.3

0.7

RtgDif

1.0

Dallas was better than Utah, but not so much better as to fully account for the Spurs' dominance so far.

The two best teams in basketball play on opposite ends of the Western Conference Playoff bracket. And until the Conference Finals happens, these two powerhouses will be playing their games against lesser opposition with one eye on each other. This, then, is the real story of Game Four in Salt Lake City tonight: Oklahoma City has thrown down the gauntlet. And the Spurs threw their own down with even greater force.

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