After the bloodbath that was game three of the Finals, the Big Three's 100th playoff win together, I wrote that I hoped we would see them get to 102 in 2013. Well, they didn't, and as we all know, they're stuck at 101. I guess in Cambodia there are some extra large shirts telling anyone who can read English that number 102 was reached. I never wanted third world countries to get Spurs championship gear, I know that sounds evil.* But, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have 101 playoffs wins as a trio and if/when they get to 102 it won't have the significance that it would've had in June of 2013.
So that got me thinking about how easily forgotten so many playoff wins seem over the course of time. The Spurs wins over the Lakers this year seem so long ago, so irrelevant. In a few years I might not even remember Kobe's live tweeting in Game 1, or Tony's second half eruption in game two. So many of the big three's 101 playoff wins have been forgotten, faded into distant memory. It's crazy how it takes sixteen victories to win a trophy, yet in retrospect some of those seem almost insignificant. Had the Spurs held on in game six, or stolen game seven, the 102nd victory would've been remembered forever. But now, the 102nd victory will probably come in 2014 in the first playoff series against the likes of the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves or Denver Nuggets. It'll be easily forgotten, unless Tim Duncan shoots a three or they lose on a Stephon Marbury half-court buzzer beater. In my depression over the Spurs fumbling away their fifth title to the
N.W.O Miami Heat, I made a vow to do a better job of appreciating the team I love. So, starting today and continuing until I have more creative ideas or we sign Andre Iguodala... I present to you a new weekly article, where I remind all of us about one of the those 101 playoff victories we might otherwise forget.
The game to remember: 2008 Game 3, Spurs VS Hornets
Boxsore: Spurs Win 110-99
Right after the Spurs eliminated the Warriors, I wrote about Steph Curry** and his performance in the first two games, comparing him to Ivan Drago, God, and an unstoppable force. I said that I had never been more afraid of a player the Spurs faced, but I was forgetting Chris Paul in 2008. He was literally unguardable. The Spurs 2012 series against the Clippers must have tainted my CP3 opinion a tad. Must have been because he was so banged up. Through three games against the Spurs in 2008, he averaged 27 points, 11 assists and had the media singing the Spurs' swan song. I remember the media saying the Spurs were finished, done. Charles Barkley said during the half of one game that the Spurs couldn't contend with New Orleans because they couldn't match the Hornet's scoring. According to him, the Spurs role players of Michael Finley, Brent Barry, Ime Udoka and Robert Horry couldn't match Bonzi Wells, Jannero Pargo, Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson...seriously, Chuck? Bonzi Wells?***
But the way Chris Paul was playing, Bonzi Wells, FDR, or myself could've excelled in that offense. The Spurs were coming off of an emotional series in Phoenix and were playing upstart playoff babies in New Orleans. People were talking about the Hornets' home crowd the same way they talk about Oracle or Chesapeake now. NOLA was glad to have basketball in their city and with a young star like CP3, what could go wrong? With Tim Duncan drained from fighting off the flu, the Hornets annihilated the Spurs off strong third quarter runs in the first two games. Peja Stojakovic dropped 25 on the Spurs in game two. The Spurs couldn't hang with the Hornet's pace and speed. CP3 collapsed the Spurs defense over and over to create wide open threes, elbow jumpers for David West and lobs for Tyson Chandler. I remember feeling so hopeless against this team, much like after the first two games against the Warriors this year and all of the first round against Memphis in 2011.
In game three, the Spurs were back in San Antonio and got more balanced production from their stars and role players. Tim Duncan had gone 1-9 for five points in game one and Ginobili/Parker had bad games in game two. Pop had to do something with his guys on the ropes, so he went to an old, but trustee move...he started Manu Ginobili! I feel like starting Manu in the playoffs when the going gets tough is Pop's version of my signature dance move. I'm not a good dancer, but my wife is. So, much to my dislike, we attract a lot of attention on the dance floor because she's fearless. When the eyes turn towards me, I have no other choice, I abandon the dice throwing move and the Pepper Grinder and I turn to the Accordion. I rotate my hands back and forth and move my head side to side like I'm playing an accordion, it's all I got. It's not pretty. It's pretty desperate. But it's all I have. I feel like Pop starting Manu is his version of being completely out of moves on a dance floor.
And I had no idea when I picked this game that it was the standard We'd better start Manu game of 2008. Has there been one every year? And has it ever not worked? Well it worked like a charm in this game, as Parker and Ginobil had 31 each, while Tim added 16 and 13. Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen combined for 23 points and seven three pointers. Michael Finely was a Spur?
Barkley's theory had held up in New Orleans as the Spurs hadn't bee able to match the scoring of the Hornets' role players. However, in game three Stojakovic (hounded by Bruce Bowen) and company decided not to make the trip to the Alamo City, as Paul, Chandler and West combined for 70 of their 99 points. Role players do not play as well on the road, as Spurs fans have sadly experienced the past two postseasons against Miami and OKC. This game was a wild ride, starting off with the Spurs going down 8-0, ending the half on a Manu buzzer beater that cut the deficit to two and featuring more stretches where it looked like Jesus was wearing a Chris Paul suit, as evidenced by this move. Seven straight Manu points in the fourth quarter led to a big run and a survival of Chris Paul's headhunt. Spurs fans started to see glimmers of hope in this game and the hope that their team was not in fact "old" and "finished."
What came after the game to remember
More blowouts. And even more blowouts. The Spurs tied the series up 2-2 with a convincing win in game four and the realization that CP3 wasn't a deity. I was expecting a classic in game five, but the Spurs were blown out again off a third quarter run and a 38 point explosion by David West. The strategy of putting Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas on West didn't work out very well. Who da thunk? In game six, the Spurs forced their third game seven of the Pop era off another big Manu night.
A funny story about game six, it provided me with one of the biggest dilemmas of my senior year, bigger than choosing which college to go to. I was set to have the perfect weekend. My dad had gotten 20th row seats to the Spurs/Hornets game six on Thursday night, I was going to see ZZ Top live on Friday night, senior prom was Saturday and my graduation party was Sunday afternoon. What could be better? Then I found out the fatal flaw in my plan...ZZ Top was actually Thursday night. I had to choose between my beloved Spurs or seeing one of my favorite bands with three of my best friends before we went our separate ways. In the end, I chose buddies and beards over Tony Parker's beard at the time. I had been to countless Spurs playoff games, was still traumatized by seeing them eliminated in person in 2006, was confident they'd force game seven and wanted to see ZZ Top before they died. Well, they're still kicking and so are the Spurs.
The Spurs survived the series in what we could call The Jannero Pargo Game in Game 7 and got a trip to the WCF.**** Pargo never recovered from the fact he shot almost as many shots as Chris Paul in game seven and probably ruined the Hornets-CP3 era and Byron Scott's coaching career. The Pargo game ruined everything for this franchise, so much so that they had to change their name to the Pelicans and David Stern was forced to rig the lottery for them.
The Chris Paul Hornets and the Brandon Roy/Greg Oden Blazers are the two teams I remember people thinking would contend for years. Now I'm wondering if maybe one day we will get to see an Anthony Davis versus Damian Lillard showdown. Now, I hate most teams in the NBA, it's not like the NFL, where every year I pick an insurance policy NFC team to root for if and when my Texans lose. In the NBA I don't like anyone and want everyone to lose, all the time. But, there are four teams I find myself cheering for: the
Hornets Pelicans, Blazers, Wolves and Cavs. God, give those teams a freaking break! But, keep letting the Knicks and Suns drown in misery!
This game to remember was a series turner in one of the many victories by the Big Three in the playoffs. In researching it I came to appreciate even more the brilliance that
was is Manu. He averaged 21 points and six assists in this series and was the catalyst in three of the Spurs' four wins. I also realized that this team was in fact, very old. It featured role players of Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Brent Barry, Robert Horry and Damon Stoudamire. So, no wonder they are called Old every year. They are!
Appreciate this win. Appreciate every one. All 101 of them.
* Most valuable championship shirt floating around in a third world country: the 2007 Patriots, without. I'm sure it says UNDEFEATED on it. Man, some Vietnamese kid is pumped about having what should have been Vince Wilfork's shirt.
**This year's Warriors team and those 2008's Hornets might end up being very similar. Curry and Paul were young phenoms who could each go into unstoppable mode, but are prone to injuries. Both had enthusiastic young coaches, great at motivating, but not the best with X's and O's. The arenas are similar and the Warriors have bad cap space tied up in Bogut, Biedrins and Richard Jefferson just like the Hornets had too much tied to Peja. Maybe a reach, but I could see Curry wanting out like Paul did after a few so-so seasons.
***The Spurs had another epic series against Bonzi wells in 2006, when the Kings decided to make the Spurs' lives difficult. That Sacramento team featured a very young Kevin Martin as well as the man who would eventually be called Metta World Peace
****In the 2008 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs blew a 20 point lead in game one to the Lakers and never recovered. This gets overlooked, but this will always be one of the most painful losses in Spurs' history to me. A pox on you, Sasha Vujacic. How I wish Manu's ankle had held up for just four more weeks. I think the Spurs could have given the 2008 Celtics a run for their money and I will forever be pissed we never got to see a Garnett versus Duncan, Bowen versus Allen, Tony versus Rondo, Manu versus Pierce and Pop versus Doc finals.