It's amazing how things can turn around so quickly in this league. The San Antonio Spurs, nearly left for dead and facing a six-game losing streak, with the doom and gloom predictions of a first round exit, all of a sudden find themselves atop the Western Conference donning that precious feather on the regular season cap we call homecourt advantage. This happened as a result of a confluence of events that had both everything and nothing to do with the Spurs -- snapping the longest slide of the Duncan era and the surprising mental slippage from closest pursuer, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Spurs' latest win against the Sacramento Kings, coupled with the Lakers' third straight loss to the Golden State Warriors, finally sealed the deal in a supposedly lackluster then suddenly frenetic finish for homecourt advantage in the West. Ginobili, who led the Spurs to their 60th victory of the season with 25 points, couldn't express any better how the race for home edge throughout at least the first three rounds has become important as the regular season wraps up in the next few days. "We knew it wasn’t the end of the world to finish second, but at the same time after the kind of season we had, we wanted it," he said.Did the world conspire to help Manu Ginobili achieve what he fervently desired at the beginning of the season, a la The Alchemist? Did Gregg Popovich again successfully pull off another one of his classic CIA Pop moves, just keeping things interesting enough with all the losing to lull the Lakers back into complacency? Right now, anything seems possible and the Spurs are captains of their ship with the upcoming playoffs serving as a stage for their Invictus. If you asked me two weeks ago if we could still win it all, I would've scoffed and cried at the same time. But now, I feel empowered again after blowing out lottery-bound fodder in the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings, and a quality win against the Atlanta Hawks where the Spurs finally exorcised their short date with the demons of 4th quarter choke city.
To be honest, it was hard to keep up a high level of interest against the Kings whom the Spurs seem to have incredible mastery of. This recap might be a bit boring but nevertheless, I'm trying something new in which I might end up with two things: 1) screwing up a great song; and 2) screwing up a great song. Not a lot of options, I know, but here goes nothing. I call this the Game Analysis Through Song, Boo Yah -- or simply, GATSBY. Fortunately it isn't The Great Gatsby since I don't want to butcher that either. Anyway, so first, the song:
I've been thinking of how to write the recap right after the game, and the idea only occurred to me as I was driving well past 8 'o clock in the evening from work. Expecting that most roads were already traffic-free at this time, I decided to take Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue or as the locals have coined it, "EDSA", which is the main thoroughfare of the capital and the shortest path for me to get home.
My iPod is on random shuffle like most days since there are too many songs in it (about a good 30% I never listen to and have no idea how they got there), and the Tracy Chapman song comes up right as I speed down the highway past buses and their drivers who have literally no regard for human life. The air is a bit cool so the windows are rolled down, and even if a good chunk of vehicular emissions get a free pass to my lungs, I take it like Hubie Brown's description of a man ("I like that he drives with the windows down, inhaling all that exhaust like a man") because it's my little contribution to the environment that day. And now I realize it's kind of ironic since I just exposed myself to other people's air crapping on the environment in the end.
So yes, back to the song. Tracy wasn't the first choice. There were songs from U2, Live, R.E.M., Dashboard Confessional, The Killers, Incubus, Aerosmith and even... ::gasp::... the Ting Tings (don't ask) that played during the short 30-minute ride, with all of their lyrics dancing in my head. The Dolphins' Cry had absolutely nothing to do with this game, although it wasn't Bad, and Somebody Told Me that later in the day we clinched the West's number one seed. The last couple of weeks were littered with Spurs fans Livin' On The Edge as the team wobbled towards the finish line, until Pop told them Don't Wait for HCA to come to you -- Make A Move and do something to lock it up! Up to that point I was telling the Ting Tings to stop inserting Last Song Syndrome (LSS) in my brain and just Shut Up And Let Me Go.
In the end, I decided to go with the T-Chap song not only because it came first, but also because it's something I thought would fit nicely not only for this particular game but for the season as well. Also, I know this song already has some meanings attached to it, but maybe it'd help if you clear that off your mind for a few minutes to focus on some roundball-speak.
You got a fast car,
I wanna ticket to anywhere,
Maybe we can make a deal,
Maybe together we can get somewhere
The re-tooled, improved, evolved, or whatever you want to call it Spurs have made a habit of fast starts this season, jumping to big leads early in games only to give them right back up as the players tended to coast a bit. This game was no different. The silver and black went on a 9-2 run to start the game led by a surprise early scoring effort from Richard Jefferson, and then just as quickly, the Kings recovered after Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton combine forces in punching holes in the defense with their inside-outside play. Sacramento sends a signal at the early goings that it doesn't intend to lie down and let the Spurs trot merrily outside the AT&T with the W, as things are tight to begin with after a first quarter score of 23-22, Spurs.
During that lengthy losing streak, a lot of us were particularly concerned and piqued at a George Hill reply to a fan's tweet saying that the team "disgusts" him. This then boils over to Hill shouting out something about real fans and band wagon ones like the disgusted guy. Like it or not, the Tim Duncan era has been this awesome car in which a lot of people wanted to jump on -- a great ticket to multiple championships, and an even better deal if the supposed "fan" is only to lend his secretly temporary loyalty to the organization. Together, yes, they will get somewhere but definitely the Spurs are driving and he's only in for the ride to see how this goes. Right now, "anywhere" could be something in-between an NBA title or an express ride to another team who can topple the shiny Spurs' auto.
Any place is better,
Startin' from zero, got nothin' to lose,
Maybe we'll make somethin',
Me myself I've got nothin' to prove.
There are fans who also somehow didn't know what to expect this season, except just be hopeful that everything comes up roses. The Spurs' offense has been reconfiguring itself in the last few drought years (and even the championship years, to some extent) to adopt to the quicker times, so much so that it has become bigger and less simplified than just Duncan and the patented four-down play. After all, the GPFOAT might be the most vulnerable for marginalization since after four rings and various accolades, what else is there to be proven? That he can still drop 40 at 35 years old? That he can finally achieve that elusive quadruple double? That he absolutely must end up with a ring more than his rival Shaquille O'Neal?
Don't get me wrong, Tim remains as competitive as ever, but at this point, his legacy is safely cemented in the history books and somehow everything is just gravy. The new-ish guard-centric offense caught most in a surprise, unsure of what to make of it. Still, the early winning helped everybody feel a little bit more optimistic.
You got a fast car,
I got a plan to get us outta here,
Been working at a convenience store,
Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won't have to drive too far,
Just 'cross the border and into the city,
You and I can both get jobs,
And finally see what it means to be livin'.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the Sacramento Kings, who are not only lottery-bound but also seemingly, inevitably Anaheim-bound. The high-rollin' Maloof brothers have been used to driving their luxury sport vehicles and flaunting their Mark Cuban-like basketball team owner fandom, especially with all those close-but-not-quite playoff shenanigans back when Chris Webber used to rule the game and Arco was home to cowbells tingling at near-intolerable decibel levels. Now? The indefatigable Tom Ziller wrote previously that the Maloofs have adopted a laissez-faire position throughout this entire, excruciating process of should we stay or should we go? It doesn't help that Anaheim really does seem to provide a better alternative, in terms of a better arena and being near Sacramento, making the potential transfer easier.
You see, my old man's got a problem,
Lives with the bottle, that's the way it is
He says his body's too old for workin',
I say his body's too young to look like his,
My mama went off and left him,
Wanted more from life than he could give,
I said somebody's got to take care of him,
So I quit school and that's what I did.
I think this is the point where I'm supposed to rant about Pop and how perfect the lines are to assume that Coach P "lives with the bottle", what with his wine collection and Spurs fans' joking references to drinking before, during and after games. Except, you know, maybe I won't... at least not so much. I can always rag on Pop for being too stubborn or trusting of less talented veterans, but just as easily I can defend him for his brilliance of thinking big picture and again, the Jacob Riis approach to things. It's a futile exercise that I won't as sure hell win, but one that helps me get through the rough patches like that recent losing streak. So yeah... bottomline is, he's an NBA coach and I'm sitting on my couch writing stuff on the Internet that doesn't amount to as much.
Back to the game, the second quarter began again with the dreaded Blair-Bonner frontcourt, which starts with a promising 11-5 run powered by Bonner, Neal and Hill triples to erect a 7-point lead. It wouldn't last long, as expected, as the Kings counter with a run of their own, 9-0 to be exact. They begin to rebound the ball like crazy while the Spurs kept turning the ball over, resulting in the Kings seizing control of the lead and threatening to make things tough all the way through. But on the bright side, Pop realizes that his bench guys aren't so hot at the moment and almost makes a line substitution, inserting back four of his starters (RJ was already in with the bench midway through the quarter). The starters do a good job of not letting the Kings gain significant momentum, while the Spurs create their own by finishing the first half with a flourish. Two Manu Ginobili dunks and a wide-open George Hill fastbreak layup signaled the demise of the Kings, as the Spurs went back to the locker room with a 2-point lead. That closing effort should keep Pop sober for the second half, hopefully.
You got a fast car,
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision,
Leave tonight or live an' die this way.
The record all season long has been representative of how this ride has been. But as always, lingering in the background is the big question -- is it fast enough to get us to a title? The HCA brings us one step closer to finding out. It also looks like the Spurs will be riding the same style of play and horses for the rest of the way, even if it means living and dying by the three, or living and dying with Matt and DeJuan taking turns on who gets abused on defense next or who produces a more spectacular turnover/missed shot.
At this point, frankly, there is no sense in turning back. Pop will drive this car down as fast as he can, and while there's a lot of worry similar to how driving at such incredible speeds increases chances of getting into an accident, there's also a palpable sense of excitement as to the possibility that we can make it to the top faster than everyone else. This team has never been so high stakes with how it can send teams reeling from a dazzling shooting display one night, and then allow itself to be embarrassed the next. The team has also separated itself quite distinctly from the past championship squads when you could confidently bet on the under in Vegas, knowing the Spurs defense will just grind every opponent to submission and scare fans away with low-scoring triumphs.
The third quarter, at least, showed that the Spurs will still live, for this night at least. The offense was working on all cylinders, as ball movement was consistently immaculate and Tony and Manu both taking turns punishing the wretched Kings' interior and transition defense. A 15-4 run to start the 2nd half all of a sudden turned a close contest into a doozy, and George Hill stepped on the visitors' throats by scoring 12 of his 19 points in the third, including a tidy 2-2 from downtown. The Spurs also literally ran the floor with their enemies, producing a 36-11 edge in fast break points.
So I remember when we were drivin',
Drivin' in your car,
Speeds so fast I felt like I was drunk,
City lights lay out before us,
And your arm felt nice wrapped round my shoulder,
And I, I had a feelin' that I belonged,
And I, I had a feelin' I could be someone,
Be someone, be someone.
Sixty wins. Say it again, sixty wins. That's a lot of Ws, and an even greater amount of work put in to earn them. The dizzying rate at which the wins came got a lot of Spurs fans high, and we thought we were kings and queens of the basketball landscape. Despite the lack of love from the media, we reveled in our own relevance -- who cared about the ESPN highlights and coverage, really? We are used to this snobbery. The Spurs are back after even the most ardent of believers thought their time was up, and that's what matters. It was just nice to have the best team in the league again, at least record-wise. We are back to being elite, back to being true contenders. Once again, we belong. The world was our oyster and all that turn-back-the-clock, young dreamer's stuff.
You got a fast car,
We go cruisin' to entertain ourselves,
You still ain't got a job,
And I work in the market as a checkout girl,
I know things will get better,
You'll find work and I'll get promoted,
And we'll move out of the shelter,
Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs.
As the Kings step out of the AT&T Center, another losing season hangs over the players' heads, along with the said prospect of transferring to another city and of news that Player X or Y wants out to join a contender. It doesn't look too promising at the present, but the team can only go up from here. Seeing LatinD root for even a knucklehead like DeMarcus Cousins, even if it was just for LD's pick 'em challenge game, and then reading about the Kings fans dropping here, there and everywhere to push their team to stay, somehow still demonstrates that the good forces are trying their best to keep things looking up. At the very least, their young players should learn something from the beating that they took tonight from a real team.
You got a fast car,
I got a job that pays all our bills,
You stay out drinkin' late at the bar,
See more of your friends than you do of your kids,
I'd always hoped for better,
Thought maybe together, you and me'd find it,
I got no plans, I ain't goin' nowhere,
So take your fast car and keep on drivin'.
With HCA for the West locked in, what happens next? Does Pop continue to steer at fast speeds to secure HCA for the entire playoffs? Or does he park the car since health prevails over all other priorities? It's a good exercise to keep track of this in the next three games. Personally I'd rather start the tapering off process -- like what most teams usually preach, it's inevitable that to become the champ, you have to win on the road at some point. Or yeah, we can keep this chit running full speed and probably build some incredible momentum on our way to a 16-0 sweep of the playoffs. Yes, you can hit me on the noggin' now.
You got a fast car,
Is it fast so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision,
Leave tonight or live and die this way.
Send "Fast Car" Ringtone to your Cell
So what will it be, Spurs fans? Ready to live and die rooting for what may seem like the last dance in the Duncan era?
Your Three Stars
3 --Tony Parker
2 - George Hill
1 - Manu Ginobili
Up Next: The Jazz Hands come to town in the team's regular season home finale. Gordon Hayward's still probably upset about his misfiring alma mater as Kobe has learned the hard way, so the team should be careful.