Western Conference Final Vs. Oklahoma City Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77 Series: 2-0, SA
Matt Moore was right.
It's not something I've written about on here before, but the few of you who follow me on Twitter may know that, on occasion I get into stupid little spats with CBSSports.com's, Matt Moore (@HardwoodParoxysm). I inevitably take exception to some seemingly anti-Spur tweet of his, I let him know about it, we go back and forth about it in public and then, usually, we have enough discretion to take it to direct message, where the arguments continue for hours.
I get on Matt about his exaggerated Twitter persona, his relentless trolling of Spurs fans, his refusal to ever see the improvisation or skill or beauty in their game, the cliche narrative about them not being interesting or compelling or whatever and sometimes over actual basketball things like last year's Finals or Manu Ginobili being "done." He -- justifiably -- gets on me for being a pom-pom waving homer. No arguments here, even though I'm like the most cynical and doom-predicting writer at Pounding the Rock.
Why do we do it? Because we're both emotional idiots, of course. We butt heads, argue, get defensive and refuse to see each other's side because we're too similar. I suspect the only major differences between us are that he is a famous national basketball writer whereas I'm an unknown slappy blogger (a point in his favor) and I happen to have much better taste in basketball teams (a point in mine, since he's a poor Grizzlies fan -- sorry, Matt).
Though our debates get heated and we rarely concede anything to each other at the time, I like to think that when we call it a night and time passes we realize that sometimes he's right and sometimes I'm right.
For example, it appears I was right about Ginobili. The dude's still pretty good. And Matt has started to come around on the merits of the 2014 Spurs. A couple months back he didn't think they had much of a shot at all against the Thunder or the Heat, and now he considers them the favorites to win it all.
I in turn, have to concede that yes, Marco Belinelli hasn't quite been what we'd hoped he'd be in the playoffs. Matt warned me about him, but I didn't listen. I still prefer Belinelli to Gary Neal, and it's a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison because they're not being used the same way thanks to Patty Mills' emergence, but overall I'd say Belinelli has been a slight disappointment so far in the playoffs, and one we've largely hid because so many of the reserves have played superbly.
I also have to admit -- and this hurts -- that maybe Matt does have a point about the boring/compelling thing. I'm starting to see his side of it now.
The problem about the Spurs isn't the Spurs. It's what they do to the other team.
As most of you know my regular job to pay the bills is waiting tables at a restaurant. Consequently I work at night and have to watch most Spurs games on the DVR very late at night instead of live. I'm loathe to admit it, but the truth is sometimes during the regular season I have fallen asleep during a Spurs game and not been able to complete it until the next morning.
When it happens (something around 10 times this season) it's inevitably been during a blowout where the Spurs' stars all played fewer than 25 minutes. I do not fall asleep when it's 78-76 going into the fourth quarter.
Gregg Popovich often mentions that he keeps minutes down throughout the season to keep guys fresh and healthy for the playoffs. For the most part, he's being candid. There were rest days for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and the three week mental break he imposed on Tony Parker and the subs got more playing time in some FOGAFINIs and whatnot.
But what Pop doesn't mention is that one of the main reasons no Spur averaged 30 minutes this season is because, as usual, the Spurs made like Charles Barkley and beat people up. Even playing in the Western Conference their scoring differential was better than any other team in the league, and even that stat is misleading. It doesn't tell you all the 20 point leads after three quarters that finished cosmetically closer because Pop plays his scrubs the entire fourth quarter while coaches like Doc Rivers, Scott Brooks or Erik Spoelstra in similar situations played their guys until four minutes are left. It doesn't tell you all the times Pop pulled the plug on blowouts midway through the third quarter when other teams typically wait until the fourth.
For years now the Spurs have made a habit of just killing teams and the older their stars get the more demoralizing these blowouts become for not only fans of the other team but for neutrals as well. It's one thing to watch the Heat or the Thunder kill somebody. At least you know that LeBron James or Kevin Durant is doing something extraordinary that the mere mortals on your team just can't do. You're watching all-world talent and it makes you shake your head.
Lately, with the supporting casts around them crumbling, the Heat and Thunder have been even more dramatic for the neutral fan. More and more their stars have to take on greater loads and do practically everything themselves just for their teams to win by a few points. It's almost unfathomable that Oklahoma City, Miami, or any other team, could win games in which their stars play poorly.
Then you have the Spurs who blow teams out behind a hail of threes from Danny Green and up-and-under reverse layups from Tiago Splitter. Yeah, there will probably some jitterbug layups from Parker and a couple of sweet passes from Ginobili and the inevitable Kawhi Leonard steal and dunk, but for the most part the highlights will come early on when they come at all. It's really hard to explain to casual fans how well Duncan played when his final line is 11 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes of a 114-83 game, and it's not like Timmeh's game is the most highlight-friendly to begin with.
In the first round, the Rockets and Blazers played a thrilling, fantastic, thoroughly entertaining series, with the Blazers prevailing in six games when Damian Lillard hit a buzzer-beating three. Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge had to play superhuman to win their games, and Dwight Howard and James Harden answered in kind to keep the Rockets in it.
In the second round, the Spurs finished off the Blazers in Game 5, a "Gentlemen's Sweep." None of the games were closer than 15 points, including the one the Spurs lost which Pop bailed out on relatively early. In the closing game Parker, Lillard's counterpart as the star point guard, exited with a hamstring injury after going scoreless in 10 minutes.
Then the Spurs won 104-82 and the final score flattered Portland.
That "Beautiful Game" video made me choke up, and in a vacuum it captures how awesome it is to watch the Spurs. To his credit, Matt's column on Game 2 also did a great job of explaining the Spurs' ethos. He gets it. I think the main reason why you, me and people of our ilk get so defensive and neurotic about the Spurs is because of columns and YouTube clips like that. We understand how special and unique and ridiculously lucky it all is. This isn't a collection of All-Star free agent mercenaries, bought to become microwave dynasties the way the Heat and Yankees and Real Madrid were. The 2014 Spurs didn't just happen with money and beaches. This was a culture and a program built from scratch. It took years to get to this point.
Still, context matters.
The 2013 Seattle Seahawks were awesome. You watched the Super Bowl because it's the Super Bowl and even then, you checked out mentally by the third quarter, keeping it on only because of the commercials and, hey, all these people were gathered with nachos and buffalo wings just to watch this. But if that Super Bowl was a best-of-seven and you didn't have a rooting interest in the Seahawks or Denver Broncos, there would be a point where you wouldn't care how awesome Seattle's defense is or how clinical they were playing or how much their teammates seemed to love playing with each other, you'd flip the channel to find something more dramatic and unpredictable.
So, yes Matt, I get it now. You're not really ripping the Spurs. You're ripping what they do to people.
You were right.
(I still want them to do this six more times though.)
Your three stars:
3) Tiago Splitter (24 pts)
2) Danny Green (13 pts)
1) Tony Parker (29 pts)
This is a trap, isn't it?