The Spurs Post-Mortem: The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth


Flip Out (via mzjonz)


Ugh. Lets get this over with, after the jump. Warning: This is really long. I hope you have a half hour to kill.

Do not expect this to have some kind of coherent flow. Not today. It's going to be more of a "stream of consciousness" thing if that's okay with you people.

I often play basketball with my best friend Manoli and his dad, Chris. He's well over 50 but still far better than both of us "young'ins," (we're both in our mid-30s, like most of the Spurs who matter, sadly) and he was a phenomenal athlete when he was younger, even though he's only like 5'5. That doesn't matter though. What does matter is that Chris has this habit, when he's watching basketball on TV, of yelling "dagger," whenever a guy hits a big shot -- usually a three -- regardless of game situation.

For example, instead of how you'll typically hear the phrase used, like when Manu pushed a seven point lead to 10 with about 1:50 to go in Game 2, Chris is liable to yell "dagger" when a guy hits a three to shrink a deficit from eight points to five. I always chastise him when he does this, because I'm an anal dork, and say, "It can't be a dagger when you're still trailing, dummy," or something to that effect.

Last night offered the latest proof, exhibit no. 6,425,932, that I'm an idiot who has no idea what he's talking about.

Kevin Durant's three right before half, over the outstretched arms of Stephen Jackson who was contesting the shot perfectly, was as much of a dagger as any shot I've ever witnessed in playoff history.

It doesn't seem like much, shrinking a deficit from 18 to 15 going into intermission, and certainly if you told me before the game started that the Spurs would be up 15 points at half I'd have gladly taken it, but I don't have the words to describe how psychologically damaging that shot was on the game, the series, the season.

Honestly, I couldn't even summon a swear when it went down. My heart just sank. My head dropped. I knew it was over. The Spurs played as complete a first half on both ends of the floor, and Durant and his teammates couldn't have been less rattled if this was a preseason game.

Dagger.

If anything that transpired in that second half surprised you in the least, then A) you haven't watched enough basketball, B) you're the kind of pie-eyed optimist I envy and will never be and C) you're a dope. That was the most predictable thing ever. It sucks, it hurts, I'm sick to my stomach about it, I'm angry, but anyone who describes it as a "shocking comeback," is a fool.

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I don't know if you do this, but this is something I've done with this Spurs team the past couple years when they would get off to big leads against good opponents, when it was evident that they'd have to win games more with their offense than their defense.

I do this countdown, but not by the clock. Rather, I do it by a fixed number. I calculate how many points the Spurs will have to score to hold off the opposition's charge. In fact, I distinctly remember doing that very thing in that big road win at OKC in the regular season. The Spurs had a huge lead in that one, like 26 or 30 points, somewhere around that, and I remember tweeting in the second quarter, "Spurs need to get to 110 points," and writing they need this many in the second half, this many in the fourth quarter and so on.

Well, when the score was 63-48 at half last night, even though in my heart I knew it was over, I told Manoli they needed 110 points, meaning a 47-point second half. I told him that the Thunder should be expected to score 30 points each of the next two quarters and that the Spurs will have to get 25 of their own to hold on.

Obviously, they didn't get anywhere close. Ran out of gas. I hate understanding how sports work.

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Factoring into my calculations, and another thing I tweeted, Monday night after Game 5, was that the Spurs would have to be 20 points better than the Thunder in Game 6, to overcome the 15 free points the refs would give OKC. Well, they weren't 20 points better than the Thunder last night. Again, I hate understanding how sports work.

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Right about here is a good time to tip my hat to Tim, Tony and Jack for their Herculean efforts last night. They all gave it every ounce they had.

I think it's fair to suggest that we wouldn't have gotten 23 points on 6-of-7 from downtown from Richard Jefferson in a Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. I hope we'll get to enjoy one more full season from him, even at 35, and that it won't be too much of a headache with him wanting an extension or whatnot. It never ends well with Jack.

Tony deserves a lot of credit for the way he came out charging against the Thunder and really I don't blame him at all for not being able to sustain it. He's only 30, but it's an OLD 30. He's got a lot of mileage on his tires and he played his ass off this year. My only regret with him is that he didn't play this way in Games 4 or 5.

With Timmeh, I've run out of superlatives with him. I just respect the guy so, so much. Mainly I'm just sad for him. He deserved better from his coach, his teammates, and the league. It just disappoints me this is the world we live in. I think in many respects Duncan was born about 30 years too late. If he was just quietly and elegantly great in the 70's and early 80's, that would've been enough. No one would've tried to diminish him with this false "boring" narrative that the media have constructed as a flimsy excuse for "he doesn't want to dance for you nitwits."

The thing that kills me about Duncan is how nobody can remember anything beyond last week. There's this myth about him -- one attached to a lot of Spurs, unfortunately -- that he was never a terrific athlete and this "big fundamental" game was due to him never being able to run or jump. To be fair, it's a story that both Duncan and Pop have been all-too-happy to run with over the years. I think it gives them a perverse chuckle, seeing how stupid everyone is.

Duncan was a BEAST in 1999, every bit as unguardable as Durant, Shaq, or Jordan in their primes. He could run and jump and threw down massive dunks on everybody. What happened was he tore up his knee in 2000 and had to change the way he played slightly. He lost about 40% of his leaping ability overnight and was still so damn good that he continued to dominate. But people acting like he never could jump are either badly misinformed or plain stupid, you pick.

************************************************************************

Hard to be too upset with Manu. You kind of saw this one coming, right? It's pretty ridiculous to play a 34-year-old 25 minutes a night all year, then play him 40 minutes (at Western Conference Finals intensity) and then expect him to have any legs two nights later. Yeah, he was screwed on a couple of plays. We'll get to that.

You want to hear the truth? I swear to God this is what I was thinking during Game 5: "If we win this one, I'd sit the big three for Game 6."

Unconventional? Obviously. Would there have been a ton of negative attention if Pop actually did it? Of course. But I realize the reality of the situation. It absolutely would've been the right move and one I bet Pop would consider before Tim and Manu shot it down. But it's just not realistic to expect Ginobili to be able to go balls out for 40 minutes twice in three days anymore. It sucks, it's sad, but it's the truth. My gut feeling is that on some level Pop would've realized it and limited the big three to the 25-minute range in Game 6, stretching them out only if they were winning in the fourth. I just can't imagine the team would've had that same intensity in Game 6 if they were up 3-2 rather than down 3-2 though.

What Pop should've done was slowly but surely trickle up Ginobili's minutes over the course of the last two months and definitely through the playoffs, again regardless of score. He needed to build up his stamina. Instead he went with the cautious, pragmatic approach. Who knows how it would've turned out? Maybe it wouldn't have mattered either way. All we know is that this didn't work.

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Going forward in 2013, there's probably nothing the Spurs can do that can make the next postseason end any differently than this one. Really the only thing I can think of is that the Lakers implode again in the early rounds and that either Durant or James Harden suffers some kind of freak serious injury. Barring that though, the Spurs run is over unless Kawhi Leonard transforms into another Durant overnight.

Not like it matters, but the smart move for the Spurs would be play Ginobili and Duncan a maximum of 55 games each (but at regular 28-32 minutes, not this shortened malarkey that doesn't allow them to build up stamina). Alternate their games so each one plays one game and rests the next and play them both against the top seven, eight teams in the league, your Thunder, Lakers, Clips, Grizzlies, Mavs, Bulls, Heat and Celtics. Probably limit Parker to 70 games and Jackson to 60 or so.

(All of this will be covered in the latest chapter of my book, "How the Spurs would have won the last 10 titles if I ran the world.")

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It's hard to complain about much. We had a good run. Won four titles. That's two more than the football, baseball and hockey teams I root for, combined. I seriously doubt Turkey will ever win a World Cup or even a Euro Cup in my lifetime. I'm pretty skeptical about the Philadelphia Eagles too, though that's less rational, I admit.

Still, this will probably bother me to my grave. This was our last shot.

The 0.4 thing in 2004 never bothered me much. That '04 Pistons team wasn't going to lose. They were so much tougher mentally than the '04 Spurs (or the dysfunctional Shaq-Kobe Lakers, for that matter).

I remain convinced that had the Spurs pulled out that Mavs series in 2006 that the Pistons would've found a way to overcome the Heat and would've been waiting for them that year, crazy for revenge. I've said it over and over, that Pistons team was obsessed about beating the Spurs the whole year. It would've been VERY difficult to win that Finals. Once the Spurs got prematurely eliminated, the Pistons didn't have the same heart and drive to beat Miami in the East. It just didn't matter as much to them.

I think this has to be the second worst series for a Spurs fan, after 1995. I suppose other people will feel differently.

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I'm not going to give anyone here the satisfaction of harping about the officiating. I know it's what you all expect of me, to rant and rave like some crazed idiot, to write words I shouldn't write and to express sentiments you're all secretly thinking too but will pretend to be offended about in a public forum because that's how the world works now, you have to act certain ways that society expects you to.

But if our coach won't do it, if he doesn't care enough to, if winning a title doesn't matter that much to him as it does to us, even when it's the very definition of his job, then why should I or any of us complain about it? We all watched the game. We're not idiots. We saw what happened. There's no need to rehash it. There were, what, 25 sequences where calls that were or weren't made affected the outcome in that second half.

I will not list them off. What's the point?

The truth is if I wrote down everything I truly feel, I'd alienate everyone forever, to the point where I'd be banned from PtR, and you'd all hate me. Also -- and it pains me to admit this but it's the truth -- it bothers me to think some of the things I think. I really don't like that person. If I was someone else, and I encountered somebody who shared the things I feel, I would immediately distance myself from him.

Is anyone like that? Do you ever hate how you are and the things you think sometimes, even if you have the sense to not say or act on them? Does it bother you that you even thought them in the first place and went to that dark place? Or is just me? Damn, it's just me, isn't it?

I will say it'd be disappointing to discover that the league is truly rigged. I mean, if it is, what are we doing? Why are we wasting thousands upon thousands of hours and days and dollars caring about these complete strangers playing a game if it's not really a game at all but a scripted "entertainment program?"

It's like believing in God. You can't half-ass it. You either do or you don't. You might as well believe it's all on the up-and-up, because the alternative is just so much worse to contemplate.

Suppose you had the opportunity to inject truth serum into David Stern but he then told you every Finals winner of the past 25 years was predetermined. Would you really want to know that? Wouldn't you feel like you completely wasted a large chunk of your life? I know I'd feel like a moron.

It's the same thing with believing in God. If He/She/It/They doesn't exist, if there isn't *something* after this, I'd probably go insane in a week. People talk about living every day to the fullest and having no regrets, but I just don't think I'm wired that way. I would just be this morbidly depressed ball of fear.

Or maybe it'd be the best thing that ever happened to me. I have no idea. I never know what the hell I'm talking about.

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I mentioned this the other day, and I've written about this countless times earlier, but it's naive at best, foolish at worst and stubborn as all hell to act like the Spurs bear no responsibility at all for their public perception.

Pop has blinders on to the world around him. He thinks the NBA is that 94-foot court and nothing else when the reality is it's so much more. It is an entertainment product, at the end of the day, as trite and cliche as that sounds. It's not just a 24/7/365 news cycle, but a 24/7/365 entertainment cycle too. The world is every bit as competitive outside of that court as on it, and it's something Pop has never understood. Attention spans have never been shorter and the thirst for new stimuli, new information, has never been greater.

The world around Pop has changed and he's become a relic, a dinosaur. You adapt or you die. Pop has always refused to play the game within the game, and it's doomed his team yet again. He let down Tim, Manu, us, everybody.

And no, this isn't about the product on the floor. It's not about dunks or alley-oops or trash-talking or emphatically blocking shots into the sixth row. The Spurs cannot play that game and I've never been blind to that reality. I don't want them to do most of that stuff anyway.

No, my point is not being blind to your weaknesses, not being blind to the obvious.

The reality is you don't have 2003 Duncan anymore. You don't have 2005 Ginobili anymore. Your team is still damn good, but if it's better than the competition, it's by the flip of a coin, the slimmest of margins. On paper a Western Conference Finals against OKC was a 52-48 proposition, while against the Lakers it'd be maybe 60-40. Those odds clearly aren't good enough when everyone knows perfectly well all the TV executives want the other team to win. If it's 70-30, maybe you can trust the process and play it straight. When it's a tight series, you need to grab every edge you can get, use every weapon at your disposal.

Truth and compromise are two weapons Pop and his minions have never learned to use.

Pop obviously feels a certain way about the officiating during the games. He rides them constantly in game. Why not tell the world what you're seeing, feeling? If you think you're not getting a fair whistle, say so. If you think the league wants the other guys to win, say so. If you think your team is every bit as compelling and entertaining as the others, say so. Challenge people's biases. Question their perceptions. Push your players into the public consciousness, even if in Timmy's case he has to do it kicking and screaming.

Contrary to what people think, not every media person is a yellow journalist or a muckraker, looking to stir trouble. Most are just looking for an interesting angle. You know what's interesting? The truth. Let people in. Let them see and hear and feel what you're feeling. The Spurs should be one of the best feel-good stories in all of sports, yet so few people know about them. It's all Pop's doing, and it remains his single biggest failure, to not see the forest for the trees. You have to be willing to play the game, to know the reporters' names, to give them the occasional nugget or quote to get them on your side. Even Duncan can be coerced into this if you frame it in the context of "This will help us win games in the long run."

Either that or you find the next Michael Jordan with the 59th pick of the draft. Good luck with that.

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People I would've preferred to broadcast the game instead of Reggie Miller because they would've been less obvious about their rooting interest in the Thunder:

The governor of Oklahoma
The mayor of Oklahoma City
Miss Oklahoma
Any Phoenix Suns fan
Israel Gutierrez
Rick Barry
Brent Barry
Jon Barry
Rick Pitino
Mark Cuban
Eva Longoria
James Harden's beard
Kevin Durant's mother
Kevin Durant (because then he wouldn't be playing, you see)

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Lest you think that off-the-floor issues were my only complaints with Pop, far from it. I think it was asinine the way he treated Matt Bonner, Danny Green and especially Tiago Splitter this series. It was humiliating, mean-spirited, hypocritical, embarrassing, desperate, and most of all, tactically stupid. Congratulations, Pop, you got your lunch handed to you by Scott Brooks.

There's this cute myth, often perpetuated by former players-turned-analysts, that Pop treats every guy on the roster 1-thru-12 the same. I wonder what Beno Udrih would think of that statement, or Rasho Nesterovic, or Tiago Splitter.

It's undeniable that certain guys, the sacred cows like Tim, Tony and Manu, are allowed to make literally dozens of mistakes per game, because Pop realizes the good will outweigh the bad. Yet with other players, they're not allowed to make ANY mistakes, and get pulled after the first one, regardless of the fact that A) their roles are being jerked around on whims and they're being put into situations they're not used to, B) they're being punished mostly for defensive mistakes when the team has won with offense all year, and C) the ensuing fatigue you're placing on the five guys you trust will ensure you're going to get diminishing returns regardless.

It's a stupid mentality of "We're going to lose either way, but at least we'll lose with MY guys on the floor."

Everything about Pop is that it has to be his way. He'd rather lose his way than win another way. He's never gotten over himself.

I've come to realize that even more than basketball ability the single trait Pop values above all is toughness. It's why Gary Neal played last night even though he was mostly awful. Pop decided long ago that Splitter was physically soft and for that reason never allowed himself to warm up to him, even though the guy clearly can help on one end of the floor or the other in every game and against every team.

Pop told reporters he didn't play Splitter last year because he was always hurt, and that is a clear lie. He was healthy enough to play like 75 of the 82 games. Basically, Pop wrote him off mentally when he was hurt in camp.

This season Splitter missed games here and there with wrist, back and calf injuries. Other NBA players are allowed to get injured, especially in this manic, 66-game season, but not Splitter, apparently. Pop condescendingly compared him to Fabricio Oberto, saying he's a hard-working pro who's not very talented, when Splitter has demonstrated, repeatedly, that he's one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the entire league.

Pop hardly played Splitter with Duncan all season, then expected them to have seamless chemistry in the playoffs. Splitter played seven seconds in the first half, with Brooks taking Kendrick Perkins out of the game to go small the second Splitter checked in. Pop wanted no part of playing a 2-3 zone against the Thunder's tiny lineup, even if it meant that Splitter and Duncan could've dominated inside on the other end.

However, instead of using it as an opportunity to get Duncan some rest and have Splitter anchor the Spurs own small-ball unit (where he'd be looking to score inside against Nick Collison), Pop took Splitter out in favor of Neal, kept Duncan in, and subbed Diaw as the lone big for Timmy in a tiny-ball offense two minutes later. In a completely unrelated story, the Thunder scored 12 points in 4:05 with Diaw as the only big and the Spurs were outscored 12-9.

In the second half, Splitter checked in and Pop immediately tore into him for not quickly double-teaming Durant on the floor. As if it's perfectly natural to ask your center to play power forward and then double team a small forward 15 feet from the basket on the wing. Yeah I'm sure that situation came up all the time during the season. As if the refs wouldn't have called a foul anyway. As if Pop wouldn't have blistered him if Durant just lobbed a pass over to Serge Ibaka for an alley-oop when he was left open. As if, as if, as if.

Also, I don't recall Danny Green doing anything wrong in his four minutes of playing time outside of the cardinal sin of missing an open three-pointer. I guess that was enough reason to not play him anymore. Good call, Pop. I can't believe a seven man rotation didn't have the legs to get it done in the second half against a team of 22-year-old aliens. Totally shocking.

Has Pop lost Green and Splitter forever? We'll see. I just know that other coaches don't embarrass their players that way, visibly lambasting them or yanking them out after a few seconds of putting them into games. You prop your guys up all year, tell them not to be afraid to make mistakes and then have them paralyzed with fear to make one. Way to go. Really good way to represent the organization.

No wonder he calls it "a program." He might as well be Bob Knight or Frank Martin. A complete disgrace.

And then to say "we overachieved in many respects," which is code for "none of this my fault, I coached my butt off."

What an ass.

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All that being said, you have to take your hat off to the Thunder. Yeah, they got a ton of calls, but damn if they didn't also hit a ton of shots. They absolutely were undaunted and unfazed by anything. They were not afraid. Honestly, as much as I wanted to hate them, I just couldn't. Maybe they weren't always super respectful of the Spurs, but that's a stupid, biased, selfish way to look at things. No team could ever fit the definition of how I'd want them to act and play and still be able to beat the Spurs. You need some arrogance and cockiness to do it. That's the truth.

Like I wrote before, I thought the Spurs played their best defense of the whole playoffs in the first half. They only had three turnovers, so it's not like OKC had a ton of free points. It didn't matter, they still had 48 at half. We paid for every single mistake, like Neal's miss of an open three that would've made it a 21-point lead (we never got over that 18-point threshold) or Manu's failure to box out Thabo Sefolosha. Westbrook and Harden both hit huge threes and Durant hit a couple. Daggers, all of them. They just wouldn't miss open jumpers and not nearly enough of the contested ones either.

It's not why they beat us, though.

They beat us because they changed the rules on us.

Coming into the series, there was a set narrative: Young, athletic, ISO team vs. Old, smart, deep team. They had their advantages, we had ours.

After two games, Brooks was able to convince his guys that they're not going to be able to win playing the way they play. They needed to dig in more against the pick-and-roll defensively and they needed to make the extra pass offensively. Once the Thunder started figuring out that whole "assist," thing, then game over man, game over. They're just too talented, Durant most of all.

And I keep harping on it, but the fact that Durant can play the entire game, and that Westbrook can play nearly all of it, kind of changes the rules, doesn't it? I'm not sure we've ever encountered anything like this before. There's just no break. They're relentless. There's no time for your bench to overwhelm their bench because they don't have a bench in the traditional sense. Their role players are allowed to be role players, because they never have that responsibility of having to do anything but play defense. Any points they provide are a bonus and they don't have to create any shots. They never have to put the ball on the floor. It's all catch-and-shoot, catch-and-dunk. The Spurs just can't do that. They need Neal, Jackson, Leonard and Green to create the occasional hoop out of thin air. It just didn't happen.

They say true immortality exists for people through family. Even when you die, you live on through the memories of your kids and their kids and so on. In a way, this is what it's like. The Spurs didn't die last night. For the Thunder to beat them, they had to become them. It's just the next generation, the next evolution.

There are slight cultural, generational and racial differences, but none of that stuff is important. At least, it shouldn't be to anybody. We never know with these things, but I really want to believe that Durant and Harden are good guys. Westbrook? The jury's out, to be kind, but the dude is a competitor, and it'd be hypocritical to make too much fun of him for being a shoot-first point guard who ignores more efficient scoring teammates considering that we're Spurs fans.

It doesn't necessarily mean I'll be rooting for them against Miami or Boston though. Really I don't care who wins. I'm over that whole hating LeBron thing. Yeah, he's a ... jerk, and D-Wade is an even bigger... jerk, but I think we've gotten to the point where the amount of criticism James gets is beyond unfair. There hasn't been a single postseason game this season where he hasn't shown up. Wade, on the other hand, has had maybe four or five good games. Everyone gets on James about not being clutch, but he's singlehandedly carrying that team for the first three quarters every night. If it wasn't for him, they'd be down 30 points going into the fourth, and what good does clutch do you then?

If they don't win it all (and they likely won't) I'm waiting for one sensible media person to write "Wade really let James and the Heat down," because that's gonna be the truth.

I respect the Celtics heart, especially Rondo, but I can't say I want them to win because it'd crush me if Garnett gets a ring at 36 and people start those ridiculous "KG is better than Duncan" arguments.

Hmm. I guess I'm rooting for the Thunder by default. I'll be a hundred times more emotionally invested in Euro 2012 (even though Turkey isn't in it) and the Giants. Thus concludes my basketball analysis for the foreseeable future.

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Finally, I just want to thank Tim, Manu, Tony, Jack, Tiago and the rest of the Spurs (everyone but Pop) for a wonderful season. It was much better than we expected and much worse than they deserved. Nothing makes me happier than watching them win games, but I realize that it wouldn't be fun without the possibility of losing. It's damn hard to win a title. Everything has to go your way. No regrets from my end.

Enjoy the off-season pounders.

(P.S. I bet you wish they listened to me about that whole baiting Westbrook thing, huh?)

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