You can learn some specific things about a team during a 40 point blow out. While watching the Spurs do whatever they pleased against Golden State I wondered how difficult it would be to root for the Warriors year after year. Following the Spurs can warp your perception of typical NBA basketball, but I swear at times I questioned if Nellie's players were actually trying to win the basketball game. Lazy defense is common ("Aye, Madam, 'tis common.") but the offense lacked sense, reason and any sign of a plan. Countless times the guy who took the ball up the court would shoot a contested 20 footer with more than 15 seconds on the shot clock. Why? The first open shot is not necessarily a good shot. Therein lies the giant chasm between the offenses of PHX and GS; PHX often shoots early in the shot clock, but almost always the shot comes off the pass, not the dribble, and you rarely if ever see a Sun shoot a long two; it's open threes, short jumpers or layups early in the clock. Good shots, not attempts you can get any time you want.
Don Nelson looked even more apathetic than the players. The only emotion you could read off his face was closest to melancholy, which does not exactly fit well in the context of competition at the highest level. His substitution patterns and time outs were seemingly designed by a random number generator. I never once saw him give his team direction, encouragement or reprimand. His behavior was downright bizarre.
A moment occurred in the second half that struck me as a perfect, small illustration of what separates the Spurs from every other team in the NBA. I do not recall the margin at the time, but the outcome was no longer in doubt. San Antonio was defending an in bounds play in front of their bench. Tony Parker was talking to someone on the sidelines; a coach or a player, but you could tell by his hand gestures that the conversation was all business. Still, Parker was distracted and it led to his man canning a wide open jumper from the corner. Not a big deal, right? Happens fairly often, right? Yet I noticed Tony Parker and multiple players on the Spurs bench in varying levels of disgust. Manu threw up his hands and leaned back in his seat.
And it led to a realization, an explanation as to why I find myself often inspired while watching the Spurs. It is not the rampant winning or remarkable feats of athleticism (traits common to all successful sport franchises). It is the unshakeable notion that the Spurs are not truly playing a game. The Spurs goal is perfection; 48 minutes of flawless execution, seamless integration, unbreakable cohesion. The evolution of Five into One.
What else explains team-wide disgust over a single basket that has absolutely no impact on who wins the game? What other justification could there be for the dozens of times I have seen Spurs conversing after a foul call, gesturing and discussing a small piece of basketball that very well happened multiple possessions prior to the stoppage of play? What else could motivate the likes of Jacque Vaughn and Matt Bonner to play so determinedly every time they hit the court, no matter the score?
What we are watching is a group of men on an epic quest with an unobtainable goal, where the reward is not completion, rather merely a symbol that they got closer than anyone else. And, as in life, the true opponent is themselves.