A championship ring ceremony is a spectacle to behold. At the beginning of the 1999-2000 season, when I was 6, I attended the first of the Spurs' five such ceremonies. My mother was lucky enough to secure two seats a few rows behind the Philidelphia 76ers' bench, right next to the tunnel entrance next to their locker room.
Because I was so young, I don't remember much of that game, but I recall two things with perfect clarity. The first thing was how close up I saw the Sixers team, and how cool Allen Iverson looked. (I'm still upset that I didn't ask for his autograph when he was coming back to the tunnel for halftime.) The second was the banner being raised. I remember turning around, looking at the back wall of the Alamodome, and wondering why so many people were going so crazy about raising a banner. I didn't understand it at the time, but that was a moment where a city that had never experienced a sports championship, and was deemed too small of a market, could cheer for something their guys had done. That championship was for the city of San Antonio, and the Spurs had finally reached the promised land.
Fast-forward 14 years, and a lot has changed. I'm now in college, watching on television from 5 states away. The city of San Antonio has grown at a rapid rate and is constantly entertaining the possibility of adding a 2nd major professional sports team. Most notably, the Spurs no longer have to announce themselves. Gone are the days of the underdog, as for 14 straight years they have been recognized as contenders for the NBA crown, and have won it five times.
That doesn't make the championship they celebrated on Tuesday night any less special, though. After losing the 2013 Finals to the Miami Heat by way of LeBron James and a dagger to the heart from Ray Allen, beating that same Heat team in the next year's Finals series was cathartic for everyone who suffered through that loss: from the players, to the coaches, to the fans. In fact, in Champions Revealed: 2014 San Antonio Spurs, an NBATV special that ran the night before the opening game, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all referred to this championship as the sweetest one for them.
On Tuesday night, the Spurs put that season to bed and began their new campaign against the Dallas Mavericks. San Antonio came into the game short-handed, with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard out with an eye infection, Tiago Splitter out with a back ailment and Patty Mills recovering from shoulder surgery. Conversely, the Mavericks came into the night after a great offseason, improving their roster with the additions of Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, and Jameer Nelson.
The game played out great. It was fairly even all the way through with both teams making runs. The result came down to the final Dallas possession. The Spurs defense forced Dallas to move the ball and the Mavericks whipped the ball around the court, ending up with Parsons taking a wide-open three from the right wing. Fortunately for the silver-and-black, the ball clanked off the rim, and the Spurs went home with a win.
One thing that is always questioned for a team coming off of a title win is how motivated they will be to try and repeat. "Will they come out hungry for more, or rest on their laurels?" " Did they work out as hard as they should have over the offseason?" For the Spurs, there has never been a need to worry about motivation. The things that have gotten in the way of repeat titles for San Antonio are as follows: A Tim Duncan injury that knocked him out of the 2000 playoffs, Derek Fisher's "0.4" in the 2004 Western Conference Semis, Manu Ginobili's foul on Dirk Nowitzki in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Finals, and Ginobili's ankle injury in 2008. The question of whether the Spurs can repeat or not has never come down to motivation, but to injury, other teams making more plays, and a little bit of luck.
In the first game of this possible repeat season, I saw that the motivation to win is there. Tony Parker canned some threes. Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli stepped up and made plays in place of their injured teammates and Manu, who struggled all preseason, found his groove. Even then, with the Spurs playing well, the other team had an opportunity to make a play to win. Lady Luck was on the Spurs' side in their opening matchup. For them to get a 6th ring night, she'll have to stay a little longer.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It's the first game of the season. You get your rings, you get beat by 30, you go get a glass of wine."
But the Spurs won. So that means that...Pop was wrong? I don't know. I'm not sure I can live in a world where I know Pop was wrong. Let's move on.
MVP OF THE GAME
Manu Ginobili - 20 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the preseason was how badly Manu Ginobili had looked. Coach Popovich had said that he was well physically, but had not played basketball or gotten shots up for a long time, so he was going to look a little shaky for a while. But Ginobili surprised me, and took over the game in the 2nd half. He got inside the lane, made a couple stepbacks, and was able to get the ball to his teammates.
He was still a little rusty on the night, as he had 3 turnovers and shot 2-6 from deep; but overall, it was an impressive game from Ginobili. Because this is the first game of the year conclusions cannot be drawn from it, but it's certainly an encouraging performance.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
- 50: The Spurs' 3PT FG% on the night, going 14-28 from deep. Some things never change; San Antonio's reliance on threes, and the ability to hit them is one of those things.
- 28: The number of feet away from the basket that Chandler Parsons' final three was attempted from. Maybe that didn't effect the shot much, but it could have been enough for him to miss.
- 17: The number of season openers the Spurs have won under Coach Pop. They have 1 loss.
- 5: The number of rings the San Antonio Spurs franchise has won. Count 'em up.
- It'll be great for the Spurs when Tiago Splitter comes back to play. San Antonio's second-unit suffered with Aron Baynes anchoring the defense instead of Splitter. His rotations just weren't as sharp, and on multiple plays he was a couple beats late helping out, which resulted in buckets for Dallas. It wasn't a total catastrophe, but Splitter is a luxury to have as a second-unit rim-protector, and will be an immense upgrade.
- Tony Parker has been a legitimate corner three threat for a couple of seasons, and in Tuesday's opener he went 4-4 from three, with three of his shots coming from that corner. He doesn't take a large amount of threes, but he shot 40% from the corners last year, and 41.6% from the corners the year before. He's proved that he's capable of hitting from there.
Cool thing about this ring ceremony is everyone is there to get theirs because the Spurs brought everyone back.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) October 28, 2014
Hey, Jeff Ayres didn't drop the ring on the hand-off. Progress!— Ian Dougherty (@IanDougherty) October 28, 2014
This Vine seems relevant, given the last time these teams played against each other. https://t.co/ricJ9qXzH9— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) October 28, 2014
Tim Duncan immediately added his championship ring to his home owners insurance plan— Desus Nice (@desusnice) October 29, 2014
KING BORIS: RT @BenGolliver: GIF: Boris Diaw breaks Dirk Nowitzki's ankles http://t.co/ziUFePayKo— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) October 29, 2014
Kawhi Leonard’s 1st grade hand turkey. pic.twitter.com/42n0Da6c6I— Ben Hunt (@benhunted) October 29, 2014
Jeez Tony. RT @NBAonSTC: BEAUTIFUL footwork by Parker. #Spurs https://t.co/VqSK1yUmOi— John Ledesma (@JohnnyNBA) October 29, 2014
It’s almost as if @daldridgetnt knew he stepped into the bear trap as soon as he asked that second question.— josh ✈ (@jortle) October 29, 2014
The best and the worst of basketball - a breathtaking sequence of brilliant possessions, followed by realization that lakers still exist— Alex Dewey (@DewNO) October 29, 2014