The dust has settled. The sting has gone away, kind of. One missed free throw. One rebound that got away. One contested shot that fell anyways. Certainly there are many Spurs fans who have replayed the end of game 6 in their head over and over and over again. But in thinking of how the Silver and Black ever got to the Finals, it begs the question when thinking of the Spurs’ success last year, is it better to be lucky or better to be good? Were the Spurs good or lucky last year?
Spurs and Lakers, round 1. When playing a Kobe Bryant-less team, you have to go with lucky, right? As a fan of the sport of basketball, one must respect the freak of nature that is the Black Mamba. There were not many people (outside of Magic Johnson) that considered LA a playoff team or gave them a fighting chance against the Spurs. Nonetheless, San Antonio completed the sweeping Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and what may as well have been the Lakers’ D League team.
At the ripe old age of 28, I have nothing but respect for what Steve Nash can do. If I sleep with the wrong pillow between my legs, my back is thrown off for the day and just getting out of bed proves to be a task. Howard coming off of back surgery last year, just never really looked right all season. Metta World Peace did his best to play through his recently repaired torn meniscus. Lastly, Bryant had just suffered the heart breaking Achilles tear. Overall, the Lakers did not really have the make up to beat the Spurs but playing a watered down version of the Lakers could be chalked up to more skilled with a touch of luck when considering the path of least resistance.
Then The Splash Brothers happened, round 2. Manu Ginobili was the villain and the hero in game one and it was about as intense as most could have taken. A double overtime win and it was a work night to boot. I’m not sure if Manu’s ill-advised three with time left on the shot clock down the stretch followed up with the game winner was luck or typical Manu skill but we took it and ran with it. As Coach Pop said doing his best Manu impression “it’s what I do”. The rest of the series was little more about what Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were doing by not being able to miss a shot (full on NBA JAM mode with the shoes on fire and all cheat codes on). When looking back, Curry’s ankle sprain at the end of the third game was about as lucky as the Spurs could get in devising plans on how to slow him down.
The Warriors were exciting last season and show the same promise this coming year. San Antonio definitely benefited from David Lee’s torn hip flexor. Then throw the Curry ankle sprain on top of that and you have another series were key players were dealing with game changing ailments. So all in all, lucky or good, I really have to think that the Spurs were good and the Warriors were lucky. Mainly because Klay Thompson had a couple of showings (that resulted in Golden State victories) where he was playing above his average and ended up setting a record for scoring the most points in a half against a Spurs team coached by Pop. Just a side note, don’t sleep on Harrison Barnes, he’s got game and showed it during this series.
Enter round 3, Grit and Grind. Considering Memphis has scarred San Antonio since the infamous 8th seed over the 1st seed upset several years ago, this match up seems to come with a little more concern than it should. This match up favored San Antonio and the only evidence one really needs to make that point is the fact that the Spurs swept the Grizzlies outright. Memphis is stacked with talent, there is no doubting that. This series great for San Antonio to get some of that dominate confidence back after having gone six games with Golden State.
The four games it took to bounce Memphis out of the chase for the Larry O’Brien (considering the Grizz were full strength) was undoubting skill. This series was where Tiago Splitter shined and in my humble (amateur) opinion earned his new paycheck. Where DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have struggled to guard Marc Gasol and Zack Randolph, the Spurs’ front court had great success. While Memphis was new the Conference Finals, they are a quality squad; lead by one of the most respectable coaches in Lionel Hollins, the Spurs simply had the upper hand from the outset. Skill and only skill got the Spurs pass the Grizzlies (sweet vindication and revenge).
King James versus The Big Fundamental, NBA Finals. It had all been said. The Spurs had never lost in a Finals series. Every year that they won was an odd year. But there are two sides to every coin and the other side to this coin housed the best player on the planet, LeBron James. For the first time in the run for “one for the thumb”, San Antonio had an uphill battle at hand. The Spurs were at full strength and so were the Heat. While sifting through the details of the series, it came down to one game, game six. Kawhi Leonard misses one of two free throws down the stretch. Pop sits Tim Duncan for a defensive series to give San Antonio some added perimeter defense. Chris Bosh gets the long rebound that eventually leads to the Ray Allen game winning three pointer. Luck? Skill?
Overall the series felt even (despite Danny Green going bonkers), whoever had the last shot, did not turn the ball over, grabbed loose balls was the team winning the game. Throughout the season Spurs players do a great job of stating that if they stay healthy, they like their chances. Nothing epitomized that statement more than last year’s run. But through it all, through the opponents’ injuries, through the overtime wins, through the mis-dribble-bank-it-off-the-glass buzzer beaters, it was a great run and honestly, the better team won.
For San Antonio, the hero did not save the world. He did not get the girl. He did not get knighted or the key to the city. But one cannot help but wonder if it was premised off skill or luck? There are countless factors when thinking of the Spurs’ success. There’s the fact that they fell to the second seed and drew the Lakers match up instead of the Rockets, who were known to give the Spurs fits. Two straight out wins over Houston, with one going into overtime and lost the last meeting. Houston showed some fight in their losing effort against OKC. It should also be mentioned that this was the series that Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus. The moment Westbrook was out for the remainder of the post season, a trip to the Finals seemed imminent for San Antonio.
With the Thunder beating the Rockets in six games, that set the stage for the Grizzlies to face off against Kevin Durant and company. Memphis has had the Clippers’ card in the first round but needed to get pass OKC to face the Spurs in the Conference Finals and did so in a quick five games. The stars aligned for the Spurs to take it all, so it seemed.
In the end, there were a series of lucky or fateful incidents that the Spurs took advantage of by closing out 3 of the 4 series with their elusive skill set. So now the question is, will San Antonio have the same kind of luck or will their skill set straight out take them back to the Finals? This was an active off season and the West did not get any weaker. How do the Spurs get back one more time before The Big Three is no more?