A Finals run really stirs up the blood, amirite? Stay with me, please; this will not be short.
DON'T SCREW THIS UP, THUNDER
For my money, just getting to the Finals is special. Of course the whole point of the season is to win it all, but there is such a wonderful feeling in knowing you're going to get a shot at the Big Larry. That's why large, tough, normally stoic men leap around like giddy fools when they've punched their ticket to the biggest show on
earth turf hardwood.
This to me is one of the quick-and-dirty ways to answer the question of whether a player was great or not: Was he one of the two or three best players on a team that made the NBA Finals? You think of all those ringless players that played for not-good-enough squads: Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter on those Blazer teams of the early 90s, although Drexler became option #2 on a title winner in 1995. Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson on the 93 Suns. Patrick Ewing seems to be the only great player on the roster of the 1994 Knicks, which may explain why the Knicks didn't cash in a title during his tenure in New York. Gary Payton finally won a ring at the end of his career as a role player in Miami, but he was part of that dynamic duo (with Shawn Kemp) in Seattle that played the 96 Bulls tougher than anyone. Stockton and Malone, of course. Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston paced the #8 Knicks to a Finals appearance; so did Reggie "Broadcaster" Miller and Mark "Testify" Jackson for the Pacers. (Hard to identify the second great on that 01 Sixer or 02-03 Nets team) Some of those players are all-time greats, HOFers, some were only greats in their time, but all of them were impactful players on teams that played for it all. Some of them had the poor fortune to run into all-time greats in the Finals such as Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and Kobe, Duncan and Robinson, etc.
Kevin Durant is on the career path of an all-timer. Russell Westbrook is at least on the level of a Kevin Johnson, Terry Porter, Mark Jackson etc, and might even be remembered by history one day if he tightens up the looser parts of his game. Whatever his faults - and they've been debated ad nauseum on this site and elsewhere - OKC would be stupid to break up this duo. They've already been to one NBA Finals, and you don't go to more NBA Finals by shedding talent. OKC already tried that, and they haven't been back yet.
Narrative (n.) - a spoken or written account of connected events; a story
There's the definition of the word narrative, the strict denotation. In recent years, it has taken on a certain negative connotation, especially on this site. Here is a PTR search for the word "narrative". There were 150 instances of the word on PTR, 130 of them since the start of 2012.
And if you think I'm wrong about the negative connotation, read these passages by PTR writers:
 was also the year that LeBron set out to avenge his 2011 Finals loss, which gave the media easy narratives that wrote themselves.
The narrative will play out that Scott Brooks is the ultimate player's coach because he allows his superstars to play maximum minutes regardless of circumstance so they can "get theirs."
We have all heard the narratives about Pop resting guys, conserving them through the entire season, so that they have enough in the tank when the playoffs roll around to get it done.
It's been fashionable in some corners of punditryville to form a revenge narrative around the Spurs...It's also absolute fiction.
These quotes have all been pulled from the sixteen days, each by a different writer. Two of my own fanposts had the word narrative in it, although I was playing a conpiracy theorist in one piece.
Like I said, this is not a local phenomenon. I've encountered the word in this context frequently when perusing other SB Nation sites, and I have no doubts that bloggers everywhere are weary of the convenient, uh, storylines. The question is, are these storylines untrue? Cliches, narratives, stereotypes, whatever you want to call them, happen to be true very frequently. It says something positive about our skepticism when we have a distaste for the trite and simple explanation, but it's careless to reject cliches for the sake of rejecting cliches.
Please understand that I'm not accusing any of the above writers of rejecting convenient narratives out of hand; I just thought our collective fondness for the word made for an interesting jumping-off point. What say you?
WELCOME TO...NBA JAM!!!
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say 30-40% of you had hands-on experience playing NBA JAM. It was a fullcourt two-on-two video game where the action was over-the-top arcade wacky: tackles and shoves on defense, dunks from the three-point line, players literally catching fire with their outside shooting, etc. It was crazy fun.
NBA JAM couldn't tolerate a blowout. No matter how well you played, the computer would pull out all the stops to force a close finish down the stretch. It was tortuous hell trying to win a game when you had the advantage for the first three quarters.
In a completely unrelated story, the Spurs had a hell of a time trying to nail down the win in the fourth quarter Saturday night.
I'm not one to blame officiating for game outcomes. I did note some bad calls in the first quarter of game one and sprinkled throughout games three and four, but the officiating was anything but decisive in those three no-doubt wins by the home team. But the fourth quarter officiating in game five was absolutely atrocious. The Spurs were hammered under the rim on at least three occasions and Kawhi Leonard was ridden nearly out of bounds along the endline on one play, and he had to throw up a difficult pass to avoid the turnover. (Let's not forget the goal-tending that even Reggie Miller admitted happened) On the other end, OKC went to the free throw line time and again with substantially less contact.
There is no overtime if not for the [expletive deleted] officiating.
Why is it "wrong", "classless", or "excuse-making" to point this stuff out? I'm not a player. The officials aren't going to carry a grudge against the Spurs for what some fan wrote on a website. I honestly believe that on a subconscious level, the referees expected that the desperate homestanding team was going to make a run to try and save their season, and called the game in accordance with that expectation. If that makes me stupid, a loser, conspiracy wacko, so be it. It has happened before and will happen again. Officials are human beings, and human beings are capable of world-class incompetence, no matter how good they normally are.
On the other hand, earning a win through those circumstances was super-sweet. So I guess it wasn't all bad.
WHAT THEY SAY AND WHAT THEY DO
There is no more overhyped, overblown, overpraised team - really two teams - than the New York Knicks that won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. They won two titles in four seasons, something that has only been done by the Minneapolis Lakers, the Boston Celtics, the Boston Celtics again, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics again again, the Los Angeles Lakers again, the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, the Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls again, the Los Angeles Lakers again again, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers again again again, and the Miami Heat. Despite wearing the halo of inclusivity, the Red Holzman coached Knicks were rhapsodized and fawned over to an absurd degree...here, get a taste in this link.
One would think that if ball movement and screens and open shots were worth such rhetorical wankgasms for the past four decades, the hoop punditverse would be anxious to heap praise when another such team comes along. But you know it, I know it, the American people know it - with a few exceptions, the Spurs just aren't accorded that kind of respect.
I'd love to get into the usual reasons - the Spurs don't play the media game, they're in a small market, they don't make news off the floor - but I have come to realize that it's just human nature. I know the importance of eating well, yet I repeatedly shovel crap into the gaping maw in my head with every meal and between meals. Your dad says he likes the idea of divided government, but he always votes straight ticket. Your sister claims she's looking for a nice, level-headed guy, but she goes for the handsome guy who doesn't have a steady job and may or may not be cheating on her. Your next door neighbor hates the person he becomes when he drinks. Every other night.
A great majority of us claim to want better, but are tempted into worse-but-oh-so-sweet every day. What's easier for the average sports pundit to appreciate - Screen and roll or Lob City?
A FAN, ONCE AGAIN
My dad was fired up and happy as anyone in the room Saturday night. This is a stark contrast from the same man who, in April, was having episodes of dementia and couldn't move around without a walker. I doubt he even knew who or what the Spurs were at the time.
In less than two months, my dad will be 82. He's had Alzheimer's for the better part of two years, but until a few months ago he was more or less functioning well. He had good days and bad, but overall he was pretty lucid all things considered.
Then his doctor (I use that term extremely loosely) decided to put him on a second Alzheimer's drug. It was a drug that affected him poorly over a year ago. And this so-called doctor put him back on it. And for a period of about two weeks, my dad was a madman. I'd get calls from my mother in the middle of the night because my dad was just out of his mind, screaming, threatening people...my siblings and I would have to gather together just to get him calmed down. We had to get a priest to visit him one evening.
Fortunately, it passed. He's off the other drug, he's walking all over the place, he's eating well, having conversations, making plans here and there...and watching Spurs games.
He's 82 and he has Alzheimers. The end is coming sooner rather than later, and there will come a time when the lucid moments are just episodes, rather than the other way around. But for now, he's (mostly) the man we've known all of our lives, and when the Spurs were up four with seven seconds to play in overtime and the Spurs had the ball, I called the game. I slapped hands with everyone in the room, including dad, who was whooping it up with the rest of us.
Sports are awesome.