It's over. Finally, after 6 months and 82 games full of countless Tim Duncan grown-man moves to the rim, Danny Green threes, Kawhi Leonard steals, zany Manu Ginobili passes and Tony Parker spin moves (And so, so many injuries. Ugh.), the regular season is done.
All that's left is potentially 2 more months of basketball, and a gauntlet of a Western Conference playoff bracket for the San Antonio Spurs to get out of if they want to face the Eastern Conference champion in the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
I wrote PtR's rehash for the first game of the Spurs' 2014-15 regular season campaign, so I suppose it's somewhat fitting that I write the last one. Back in late-October the Spurs were full of promise. They had brought back every single player from their 2013-14 championship team, and were regarded as heavy favorites to repeat as champions. Fans expected much out of newly-minted star, Kawhi Leonard (who was unable to play on opening night), and wondered how much they would be able to trust the older players on the team.
6 months later, the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same. First, there were injuries to seemingly every player, which threatened the Spurs' ability to be a contender. For the first time in 20 years, San Antonio appeared to be human. They could bleed just like everyone else, and the questions of whether they were finally done with their spectacular run at the top were legitimate.
But, just as the end seemed near, the Spurs returned to health and ripped off wins at a staggering rate. Kawhi Leonard proved to be the star everyone thought he was. Tony Parker showed that he could still be relied upon to ignite San Antonio's offense. Tiago Splitter began to play up to that big contract he just earned. Everything began to return to it's natural state.
There have been a lot of highs and lows in between, but the Spurs are back where they started. They may not be favorites anymore, but that's no fault of their own. The rest of the league stepped up it's game. In San Antonio, it's just the same old Spurs. They play a deliberate, efficient, team-oriented style of basketball; and they're ready to rip out your heart at a moment's notice.
Now that the formalities are over with, the Spurs will begin their march towards what they're built for: The NBA Finals. In the Western Conference, that's never easy. Add in the fact that San Antonio is the 6th seed, and will potentially have to go through the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and the best-record in the league Golden State Warriors all without homecourt advantage at the AT&T Center; and some may call it impossible.
Their road to the Finals will be difficult, but this feels like something San Antonio has been building towards. After nearly 16 years of dominance, and so many accomplishments in that time, a repeat championship seems like the only task left for the Spurs to achieve. They've been so good for so long that they no longer need one to validate them in any capacity, but accomplishing that last goal would be so fitting for a team that has been so complete.
If you look at their results from the last 16 years or so, you might think that the Spurs will never die, but that's false. Everything has to come to an end sooner or later, and San Antonio's run at the top is close to over. As old as they are, this could be the last deep playoff run we see from the Spurs for a while. They have pieces for the future in Leonard, Green and Splitter; and Tony Parker will still be there for a couple seasons, but there's no telling if this is Manu Ginobili's final crack at a championship, or if Tim Duncan will be as effective on both ends of the floor as he was for all of this season. And even if everyone returns again, the Western Conference gets tougher every season, further slimming the silver-and-black's chances of ever getting back to this point.
Because the outlook following this season is so shady, it makes this postseason feel like something they've been building towards. The necessity of winning this season has been apparent, as the Spurs went all-out in the final month and a half to try and get back to the top of the standings. They got hot at the end, but it wasn't enough, giving them the 6th seed and a tougher path to travel. But make no mistake, San Antonio is firing on all cylinders at the moment. Since this might be their last title shot in the Big Three era, they should be expected to continue that amazing play.
May the rest of the NBA be warned: The Spurs are yet again ready to make a run at the NBA Championship.
Tony Parker: 23 points on 11-17 shooting, 6 assists
Parker was the most constant scoring attack San Antonio had versus New Orleans, able to operate well in pick-and-roll sets. When he wasn't scoring, he was dishing it out to big men rolling down the lane. The team as a whole didn't have their best night, but Parker's performance was still impressive. As they go into a tough playoff matchup versus the Clippers, that's very encouraging.
QUOTE OF THE GAME:
Popovich says Tiago Splitter out for Wed., definitely will be minute limited for Game 1 of playoffs if he suits up— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) April 13, 2015
This isn't from tonight, but it does have a huge impact moving forward. Tiago Splitter usually does well on the defensive end versus Blake Griffin and the Clippers, and if he's not able to go whenever he's needed that puts the Spurs in a bind.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
10: Three-point attempts for the Spurs. San Antonio usually thrives on the deep ball, attempting 22.7 per game; but tonight, they got under half of that. And even when they did get a three-pointer up, they couldn't make one, hitting just 3 all game.
14: Amount of points that Kawhi Leonard scored. Leonard was kept quiet, taking 14 shots and recording only 14 points. In a season where he's pilfered the ball from nearly everyone, he had zero steals in the game. He did record 10 rebounds and 3 assists, but he just didn't have the impact that we've come to expect from him as of late.
11: Steals for the New Orleans Pelicans. The Spurs played well, but they were sloppy with the ball, giving New Orleans 11 live-ball turnovers. The proved to be a huge difference in a close game, giving the Pelicans more shots to keep their lead up.
- While Anthony Davis had a terrific performance, recording 31 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 2 steals; he really could have been a lot better. Davis had 6 turnovers, as the Spurs were crashing down on him all night. He also couldn't hit from midrange for most of the game, something he's become elite at this season. He had a game that most players would dream of, but since it came from him, it's nothing special. It's scary to think about how good this guy is going to get in the not-too-distant future.
- Tyreke Evans really had a wonderful outing. He started in front of a still-injured Jrue Holiday at lead guard, and played the position well. He showed pretty good judgement all night, scoring 19 points and adding 11 assists, all with 0 turnovers. He kept the Pelicans running smoothly, and played a major part in their clinching a playoff spot.
- Moving forward to the first-round series versus the Clippers, how the backup point guard minutes will be divided up remains a question, but how either Patty Mills or Cory Joseph will play in them seems to be answered. Mills has struggled this season, but found a groove versus the Pelicans. There's no telling whether that will hold t the postseason, but consider that he would be matched up versus Austin Rivers for a bulk of his minutes. Rivers is, to put it delicately, not the best basketball player int he world, and Mills could find his game against him. Conversely, if Joseph gets those minutes, he would terrorize Rivers on the defensive end, and on offense, Rivers is such a bad defender that even Joseph would become a scoring threat. No matter who gets those minutes, there shouldn't be any hiccups from the bench point guards.
Tony's got his floater working tonight pic.twitter.com/KWlPM0Au9x— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) April 16, 2015
#HoopIdea: We let Russ play with the Pelicans in the Playoffs.— Robby Kalland (@RKalland) April 16, 2015
The Pelicans can't let up for even a second. Do not give the Spurs an inch or they will DESTROY YOU.— Chris Barnewall (@ChrisBarnewall) April 16, 2015
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ https://t.co/BEm3cAFdr6— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) April 16, 2015
The Spurs got down big early, but they just kept Pounding The Rock and made this a winnable game.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) April 16, 2015
Anyone ever seen Boris this upset? pic.twitter.com/SS6YSkDcwg— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) April 16, 2015
This game is a pretty good microcosm of the Spurs' season. Took the first half off, sprinted in the second, not enough gas to finish on top.— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) April 16, 2015
Tim Duncan’s played in 53 consecutive games, his longest such streak since the 2010-11 season. He finished that season as a 35-year-old.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) April 16, 2015