The Spurs walk into the playoffs with hope and foreboding. They've seen the promised land but they have also seen so many cool oases that turned out to be mirages. These Spurs have at various times washed in endless, beautiful seas and been tricked by the desert sun.
Memphis surprised us, but not all that much: Throughout the season, we'd seen teams with tremendous size (like the Lakers and Wolves and Grizz), and we'd had relatively little success (the W column belied that every time we'd had to claw back against the Wolves, and that the Lakers series had been a coin-flip or a box-out away). We looked upon the Spurs going into that series with cautious - extremely cautious - optimism. Put it this way: No one thought that series would be a sweep. We thought we would pull out the close games with execution and avoid the traps that a great defensive team would set. We almost did win. Still, almost doesn't count for anything. In another universe - perhaps one with slightly different playoff rules or seeding - that was the WCF, and the Spurs win in 6 or 7. Last year wasn't a mirage of a lake: The water was there, it was just a millimeter in the direction of that ungraspable fourth dimension. Man's reach exceeds his grasp, and we could - in that wonderful season - seem to touch the sea.
The Spurs are better this season, and their competition really isn't. With Sessions in place and Bynum making a scary resurgence, the Lakers won't be destroyed by a smart team so easily, and Harden's predictable development from potential to actual has given us all pause. The Grizzlies are just as dangerous as last year's squad at times, but their world-beating frontline assault is more fragmented, and they're far from the configuration of decisive advantage that won the series. And I don't expect Mike Conley to dominate Tony Parker yet again (though kid can straight-up ball, and it could be a wash). Besides that? Well, the Clippers' new swag is a concern, but I can't get over that the holes in their defense are precisely shaped like the shot chart in a perfect Spurs offensive game. I can't help but think that the Spurs have the advantage - more or less - over every team in the West, and they have a good case against the field. We'll have to see how Tiago's wrist is doing, but - as the first game against the Jazz showed - we have a margin for error. We started out roughly and the Jazz were playing us tight, but we still had time and breathing room enough to gather ourselves off the floor, brush the dirt off, and ultimately dominate the game.
The Jazz game was a microcosm for this season that has taught us that we can do more than reach: we can grasp something. We can step through real obstacles and adversity to find something at the end of our journey. The hope is that what we end up grasping is the thing we've been reaching for so long. It seems inevitable that they will, that it's "their time," that there is little that can stop them.
It's a first act that can only end with tremendous accomplishment or tremendous disappointment.