The Boston Celtics played some the best basketball of the fresh season when they arrived at the AT&T Center. They outmatched the Spurs until Coach Pop sent Manu to the bench. Ginobili put on a show of an argument before sitting quietly and closing his eyes. Under his lids he stared at the rugged rookie, DeJuan Blair.
On the court, Blair dropped into a trance, but continued to play. Guarding the taller Rasheed Wallace, Blair swatted the ball away. He repeatedly drove the ball to the hoop scoring on crowds of larger Celtics. But the other Spurs fumbled, throwing away crucial possessions.
Ginobili was only able to focus on one Spur at a time. Pop relented. By the time Manu was physically back in the game it was too late: Celtics 90, Spurs 83.
The next loss, to the Denver Nuggets, hurt more. The Spurs lingered in their locker room long after the crowd, the media, and the visiting team left the SBC Center. For hours they sat in silence.
When the fingers of night traced the outline of a coming dawn, Popovich broke the vigil, "I am pleased with the aggressiveness and hustle, but the turnovers are the killer."
Turnovers, Pop's shorthand for those moments of consciousness that broke the teams extrasensory bond to Ginobili, their psychic nexus.
"Miscommunications," added Tony Parker, "and some bad luck..."
"... That's out main problem right now." Keith Bogans finished Tony's sentence as he and new Spur Antonio McDyess, nodded in unison with the other veteran players. The distinguished Michael Finley, his sprained ankle on ice, sported a look of steely determination. George Hill and DeJuan Blair sat closest to Pop, attentive to everything. Young players -- do they know any better? -- RJ thought as he looked at them.
RJ played for other contenders and a storied Arizona Wildcats college team. This was different. Was Meta-psychic training the secret to the Spurs' success over the last decade?
RJ nodded along.
"I think we're getting there, slowly but surely," Hill interjected, eager, "It's still going to take time."
Popovich smiled at Hill and continued, "Some guys are just starting to figure out the program, what to do in reaction to their teammates. It's an on-going process, but they're getting it and going in the right direction."
Pop looked squarely at RJ, "We're adding things, but we're taking it slowly, and we're probably not going to add as much by the end of the season as we usually do."
RJ tried to hide a nervous flinch. What other strange disciplines would Pop introduce from his playbook?
And what really happened when he passed out on his own front lawn two weeks ago? Was it just food poisoning from a bad dish of Wasabi Crusted Ahi Tuna at the Cheesecake Factory?
As the team filtered out into the parking lot, RJ held Tim Duncan back. Tim was his best friend on the team, the reason he was there at all. "I'll be a lot more comfortable, understanding what to expect..."
"Stuff happens," Tim poker-faced.
Above them flocks of grackles chattered ever louder.