The benefit of being a Spurs fan: We know and expect our team to adhere to three basic P’s: Pop, Patience and Poise. I’d add Parker and the persistence of Ginobili but the first three pre-date their arrival and form the rock values of Spurs basketball, along with defense. Those three P’s help form the “Big Fundamentals” of who we are and what we expect. They also help avoid the worst P’s in sports: panic and pouting. Pop’s guys have always followed his lead, seeing the big picture and knowing better than to party after a big win or a 2-0 series lead. That same level headedness prevents the sulking and selfishness that infect some players when facing a series deficit or playing a true stinker, as we saw yesterday. Imagine where the Nuggets’ minds would be in the same circumstance?
We’ve seen this team, regardless of roster, respond to playoff losses at home or by double digits. We’ve seen them respond with a level of focus and quiet fury that burns for more than one game and creates a run of victories that takes control of a series and raps it up a few short days after “experts” were debating how much trouble the Spurs were in. So what the hell to make of what we saw Thursday and what we expect Saturday?
One problem with veteran teams is their matter-of-fact understanding when it’s not their night. I have to think it became very clear to our guys after the start of the 3rd quarter. When dallas couldn’t miss and we couldn’t make. Another is that desperate sense of urgency with which younger teams and teams that have never won anything always seem to play. That desperation can be used against them should they fall behind, which is why twice wasting opportunities to take a series lead has prevented the Spurs from exploiting the Mavs’ fragile mindset. Just imagine if our guys had played a hair better in game 1? We could easily dismiss game 3 for what it was: a bad luck night where the desperate home team beat the relaxed squad that couldn’t hit a wall with an arrow. The problem is we didn’t win game one, had no reason to feel relaxed and should have displayed some feeling of desperation. This team has lost the sense of urgency it always had at playoff time, win or lose. This started last season and is becoming more a part of the team personality. Can it be found? Does it even still exist in our DNA, a team playing without Manu, Horry or even our long ago energy guy, Malik Rose? Place this on our off-season wish list.
I look to last year’s Pistons (not my favorite parallel) for an example of a team that was down 2-1 in the first round to an inferior opponent. I know, the Mavs are better than last year’s Sixers but the Spurs are no worse than last year’s Pistons. And no matter what people in dallas, Jon Barry or John Hollinger say, the Mavs are not better than San Antonio. To trail in this series is an upset. Last year’s Pistons team turned it up a notch, came from behind to win game four and established control from that point. It can turn around that quickly. This is why perspective is important. Winning game 4 not only knots up the series and regains home-court, it allows us to return home needing only one home win to put the Mavs back were they know they deserve to be: on the bottom looking up.
I expect to win game 4, much as I did game 2. I expect to return to Dallas up 3-2, though fearing a repeat performance similar to last night and thus requiring a game 7. Having not seen a killer instinct and believing that we no longer have a road assassin (fingers crossed that Mason will be) causes me fear that the full seven will be necessary. We’re not equipped to play seven games and advance for potentially seven more and come out on top. I fear a loss tomorrow would show that in part because of injuries and part due to acquired players, we’ve become too much like other Western Conference teams: tilted toward shooting and scoring yet not enough on defense and toughness. Basically, a slow Suns. Or worse, Mavs. No thank you. In other words, it’s time to turn this around. Time for guys to want the pressure of helping Tony and Tim. Time for Bonner, Udoka, Gooden and Hill (should he play) to play desperate and provide the energy and hunger that role players must bring. The latter three have no championship rings. It’s time for them to play like they want and expect that to change.
Go Spurs Go!