clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Spurs may be saying good-bye to two eras: the Thunder's and their own

New, comments

On Durant, iso-ball, blowing up cores, and mortality.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs are about to play Oklahoma City in Game 4, with a chance to take a stranglehold on the series, and it puts them in a bit of an awkward position. They've got a chance to fracture the Thunder franchise, to rock its very foundations if they can pull off an emphatic series win in five games, and in so doing simultaneously recruit Kevin Durant.

It's a bit similar to what they did to Miami two years ago. Not only did San Antonio deny the Heat's bid at a three-peat, but they won the series in five, with each of their victories coming by 15 points or more. The series was so one-sided that it played a part in LeBron James deciding to go back home to Cleveland, effectively breaking up "The Heatles."

The key difference this time is that not only would be the Spurs be breaking up another high-profile star-laden team, but they would also have the chance to directly benefit from that divorce by picking up one of the vanquished parties on the rebound. According to's Marc Stein and Zach Lowe, San Antonio is quite interested in getting into the Durant derby if he indeed decides to leave the Thunder in free agency -- and whispers persist that the interest is mutual.

I've made no secret of the fact that I don't want the Spurs to get Durant. I've never been a fan of his for one and more importantly I think it would be another dramatic step away from the ethos and culture they've created over the past two decades. The whole beauty of the Spurs --at least for people who root for them outside of geographic or familial reasons-- is that they have their own identity. It's the whole "built, not bought" thing. They're not the Lakers. They're not Miami. They're a small-market team that built a dynasty the hard way, through the draft. When they do acquire people who've played for other teams, they're supposed to be under-appreciated role players who haven't fulfilled their potential yet. Not fully realized superstars like Kevin Freaking Durant.

And not LaMarcus Aldridge either, obviously.

I've grumbled all season long, in this space and in conversations with friends that this Spurs team isn't nearly as fun to watch as the 2014 version was, that the reliance on Iso-ball or post-ups with Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard and the preference for mid-range jumpers over three-pointers makes for dull viewing. I've romanticized "The Beautiful Game" to the point where you'd think no other team in NBA history ever thought to pass the basketball to each other before.

As if the Spurs didn't Iso and post up like crazy from 1997-2005. As if they didn't bore people to death with their low-scoring, methodical style of play. As if the current edition of the team isn't capable of stringing passes together.

I've come to realize it's not about the ball movement. It never was. It's nice, it's pretty to look at, but it's not why I watched every game obsessively. And it wasn't even a major reason they've been successful.

It's the players, stupid. They've always had really, really good players.

Manu Ginobili was asked about whether the team was passing the ball enough after Game 3's win or whether they were dumping it to Aldridge and Leonard too much, and his answer was kind of an eye-opener for me. It made me feel silly, actually.

I mean, it wouldn't be smart to not use those two. They're both maybe top-10, top-12 [players] in the league, and they're both having a remarkable season, an incredible playoff series, LaMarcus had, you know, 79 points in two games, so...

I mean, moving the ball is great, and we all have fun, but you gotta go to what gives you the best chances of scoring, and today giving them the ball, especially down the stretch, is what gives us the best opportunity because we're not getting a lot of advantage with that ball movement. There are some teams we can do it [against] and release pressure from those two, but in this situation with their physicality, their length, their strength... it's almost a no-brainer that we've got to go to them, and that's what it's about. You try to go to your strength against the opponent's weaknesses and today that's the way to go.

Tim Duncan had a similar response when asked after practice prior to Game 3 if it was possible for the team to rely too much on Aldridge's scoring.

I don't know that there is. We're still running our offense, just when he starts rolling like that, we're going to give him the ball and keep riding him. He's done an unbelievable job of scoring the ball. If that changes and if they start double-teaming or he starts missing shots, he's a willing passer and we're there to run the same offense we've run the entire year. It's not just through him, but as long as he's scoring the way that he is and playing as well as he is, that's our best option.

Finally there was Tony Parker explaining a role player's lot in life at the shoot-around prior to Game 3:

LaMarcus has been playing unbelievable. If he keeps playing like that, it's our job even if we get three shots, four shots, we have to make them. That's a tough life. For me, I used to get 15 or 20 shots so I got time to get a rhythm. When you get four shots, you have to make them. That's my job now. That's my life now. I have to make those shots. I know I'm going to get three or four and then I'm not going to see it again for 10 minutes. It's like that. I'm just going to have to make them.

And Parker went on to do exactly that, a major reason the Spurs won the game.

The reality is that "The Big Three" have a healthier, and far more mature, perspective on what is happening with the Spurs than I do. Like Ginobili said, it's a no-brainer. You give the ball to your best players. It's just common sense. Parker has spoken eloquently in the past about passing the torch to Leonard and we've also heard Ginobili bare his soul while lamenting his diminished abilities and the life cycle of an athlete.

To them it's the most natural thing in the world, something they've lived with and seen and felt far more personally than I could ever hope to imagine. There is nothing sad or unfair about it. Young players develop and improve. Older players slow down and get worse. And the franchise's only goal is to win, period. Duncan replaced David Robinson as the first option, Parker fazed out Antonio Daniels and Ginobili turned Steve Smith into a bench-warmer. They took over their roles with no guilt or apology, and had nothing to feel guilty or apologetic about. The best players play and they get the ball.

I've been an emo dork about the Spurs. It's not the (lack of) ball movement that upsets me or the over-reliance on Leonard and Aldridge or even the notion of acquiring Durant. Those are all just excuses for the heart of the real problem.

I'm just sad that Ginobili and Duncan are at the very end and that they're not going to be a part of my life for much longer. (I'm even a bit wistful about Parker's decline, but don't tell anyone.) The Spurs as we know them will end very soon and it's killing me. I get emotional just thinking about it. But what can you do? They had a good run. The best run of any NBA trio ever, actually. Life goes on.


If we have to suffer we might as well take down a bunch of Thunder fans with us, right?