Who are we?
Well, first of all, let me introduce myself. I’m just like you. I love the Spurs. And I really, really, really dislike watching them lose, especially to the Thunder. I dislike the little dance Russell Westbrook does where he holsters his fingers after hitting a wide open trey. I dislike the face Russell Westbrook makes when scores an important field goal (a scowl of sorts, maybe a stankface). I dislike the exaggerated screams Russell Westbrook doles out when he does, well, anything. I dislike the face Kendrick Perkins makes when he’s trying to look tough, where his mouth gets really small and his eyebrows furrow. I dislike the crying motion Kevin Durant makes when he hits a dagger in an opposing team’s arena. I dislike the shoulder waggle Kevin Durant throws around with swagger before he drains the 30th free throw in a row. But, boy are the Oklahoma City Thunder an incredible basketball team. There’s no getting around it. And the fact that these things annoy me is nothing more than verification of that statement.
Game 4 was painful. In every way imaginable. I’m so tired of hearing Reggie Miller talk about the "Serge effect" – whatever that means. The commentary team correctly pointed out that Russell Westbrook was out of bounds when he stole the ball from an aloof Tony Parker, then laughed about it. That’s right, a blatantly incorrect call on national television is laughed at. Then, TNT showed the replay at least a dozen times as corroborating evidence of Westbrook’s stellar play. How about using legitimate stellar play instead? There was plenty of it to go around. Don’t worry though, that never happens. Except for when Jeremy Lamb gets called for tripping Patty Mills when he is nowhere near the play, saving KD an additional foul. Or how about when RW goes to the line on a pretty confusing whistle, and we mysteriously get no replay at all? Instead: highlights from irrelevant junctures long since passed? None of this really mattered though, because the only Spurs that came to the arena were the ones wearing tracksuits well into the game.
And this is all the more painful because we should have kept our foot firmly on the gas pedal, and we failed. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m fairly confident that the only reason Ibaka didn’t play either of the games at the Alamo thus far was because the Thunder brass didn’t think they needed him to win. Did you hear that? In the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City just decided to give one of their big 3 the series off. That they could handle us without him. Who are we? We should be the guys rocking new Western Conference Champions swag after punishing such a brash, disrespectful decision. Instead, we’re stuck listening to the media talk about 2012 ad nauseam.
For the first two exhilarating games of this year’s Western Conference Finals, we were everything we knew we could be – flawlessly executors at every turn, showing the Thunder, and everyone who was watching, what this Spurs team is capable of. Notice, I did not say "was," as we are easily capable of reproducing performances we saw in Games 1 and 2.
Welcome to Loud City is right: Russell Westbrook is elite. We can sit here and crunch backroom numbers all day, but that hardly accounts for the intangibles – most notably, RW’s uncanny athleticism and tireless physical fortitude (that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too). I’m not convinced his mental fortitude is as developed, but he’s a youngblood: he’ll get there. His physical fortitude was in full force last night, and I was disgusted. It’s the same formula every time: get past the first defender (which he can do to anyone on the planet), and throw your entire body into whoever is under the basket. It’s rarely a good shot, but it’s ok because he’ll get rewarded with 14 more uncontested shots over the course of a game (yes, he went 14/14 from the line in G4). His constant jawing at the refs is slightly less tiresome to watch than Dirk violently slapping his elbow after literally every shot he takes. Game 4 was Game 2 if RW gets the calls he wants. If he isn’t being bailed out constantly, we’ve seen what happens – he begs, and later screams, at the refs. Then, the technical. Then, the mental checkout. The objective observer in me says he should probably get an amount of calls somewhere in between G2 and G4, as I saw plenty of ticky tacks in G4 and plenty of fortunate no-calls in G2. All I want is consistency. I want to be worried about what version of RW we’re going to get, not what version of the refs we might get. He doesn’t deserve to go to the foul line just because he was aggressive, but he also doesn’t deserve to put his body through ridiculous punishment and not be rewarded when Splitter falls asleep on D.
We can’t afford to worry about which refs we will get, but we can worry about containing RW. There is no reason it can’t be done, and plenty of teams have done it before. Our best option, as far as I’m concerned, is to apply the LeBron rule (or better yet, the LBJ/RW approach). Give him midrange jumpers. Give him midrange jumpers all day. All. Day. Long. He’ll get his, but he won’t be able to slow down the game like he can when he’s at the foul line every 20 seconds. Those breaks are more about his teammates catching their breath than himself. And even if he shoots 50% from the field from that range (near impossible for even the best of the best), the Thunder score 14 fewer points – and the Spurs win, 92-91. Durant is the MVP, and Serge will contribute – but stop RW, and you stop OKC. I am sure of it.
Speaking of Serge: really? REALLY? A guy 9 days older than me is making a team chock full of Hall of Fame talent, NBA Championships, Euroball Titles, and MVPs shake with terror? Don’t waste any time telling me his actual play has been, in any meaningful way, the difference. Because I don’t believe you. You can count on Ibaka for 15/9/4 the rest of the series – that’s a good statline, but is it a great statline? Hardly. This is mental, and it has been bafflingly clear since Ibaka went 4/4 to start G3, and the homers in Chesapeake went bananas (it’s ok guys, we’re all homers in the end whether we like it or not). Suddenly, we stop attacking the rim like there’s some coiled snake underneath waiting for you to dare approach.
Why would we care? There is no existing articulable reason why we should. Let him get 8 blocks a game. Seriously. Let him get 8 blocks, but don’t stop attacking. Never stop attacking. Run Sugar K at full speed right at him. Every time Ginobili drives to the hole, Pop should be screaming at his bench to take notes. Serge’s 3 blocks will be accompanied by at least 3 fouls before halftime, and Kawhi/Argentina will probably add 5-7 points at the charity stripe. Tony should be floating midrange jumpers over Serge’s outstretched arms all day.
Tim Duncan should probably remember that he’s TIM F’ING DUNCAN, and kiss the glass once in a while. Tiago Splitter should probably remember that he’s got one of the deadliest baby hooks in the game. Alright, I might have gone too far, but his hook is pretty darn polished, if you haven’t noticed. Tony Parker should probably remember that his running floater is nearly impossible to defend. Kawhi Leonard should probably remember that he is nearly unstoppable when he attacks and defends with energy. Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw don’t need to remember anything because they actually show up on the floor.
We are the San Antonio Spurs. If we don’t start acting like it, then we’ll probably be those guys remembering what it was like to be 28 seconds from an NBA championship before seeing that trophy slip out of six hands. Remembering what it was like to get backdoor swept, something I’m still healing from to this day. And all the counterarguments we forward after being called too old, boring, and just not good enough will fall on deaf ears. We cannot allow that to happen.