Apparently these San Antonio Spurs are different.
Apparently they’re not the scary team we saw in 2008, one that was bowed by the New Orleans Hornets before being beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers. Apparently they’re not the team that seemed to be bothered a past its prime Dallas Mavericks squad in 2009, or made to look past its time by the Phoenix Suns a year later. Apparently the combined failures of playoff losses to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011 and Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 have combined to create a monster, ready to move and talk on both ends and keep an inhuman amount of focus from possession to possession without ever letting anger or intensity tear apart a good thing.
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Or an entertaining thing, thankfully. Because this is the most entertaining San Antonio Spurs team we can remember. Roll over Devin Brown, tell Jaren Jackson the news.
The San Antonio Spurs are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007, downing the Grizzlies by a 93-86 score in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. If that seems like a milestone that falls short of celebration, try to understand the mindset of a team that considers anything less than a title defense to be a relative night in the ruts. Once again, the Spurs made the Memphis Grizzlies look downright amateurish in the teams’ Western Conference finals showdown, with San Antonio popping out to an early double-digit advantage, well before keeping the Grizzlies at bay by continually attacking every obvious weakness that its opponent provided.
They found these weaknesses because the Spurs are so much smarter than any of us, taking advantage of weaknesses that only seemed to show up once the Grizzlies lined up on the other side of the jump ball. A recognition that stood in stark contrast to the too-early Spurs defeats from 2011 and 2012.
Once again, San Antonio entrusted Tony Parker to work as he saw fit against what was the Western Conference’s best defense in 2012-13. Grizzlies guard Mike Conley inexplicably went under screen after screen on his way toward helping Parker toward a playoff career-high of 37 points, with Parker missing only six attempts in 21 tries from the field in a dominating performance that topped any work he put in during his 2007 Finals MVP run.
The Spurs also continued to go at Memphis forward Zach Randolph defensively, and while Zach improved on that end during his team’s final game of the season, his offensive game once again was in shambles. Randolph refused to trust the baseline and/or elbow jumper that served him so well as he shot the Spurs out of the playoffs in 2011, as he again turned in a frustrating offensive performance that just about sealed his team’s fate.
Zach shot just 4-13 in the deciding game, which left his series shooting percentage at barely over 30 percent. Randolph also missed half of his 24 free throw attempts in the Conference finals, a distressing step-down for someone that hit exactly three-quarters of his freebies during the regular season. The Grizzlies big man had absolutely no confidence on his preferred end of the court, even matching up against a Spurs team he had the biggest hand in dismissing back in 2011.
San Antonio has changed quite a bit since then, though. Reputation earned, this season the Spurs went about diving back into what made them so great so many years ago. Though they’ve been to the NBA’s version of the final four twice since 2007, this year’s roster seems so much different than the squad that didn’t appear right for that stage in 2008, and didn’t look sprightly enough for June this time last year.
Parker, at age 31, is playing as well as he ever has. Tim Duncan (15 points, eight rebounds, four blocks in under 35 minutes) has put together his best season in years. Tiago Splitter now has the healthy ankles to match his 2012-13-bred levels of high confidence, while Boris Diaw looks to be fully recovered from his own back injuries. Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili (six points, six rebounds, six turnovers, six assists in Game 4; because he’s 1.25 times as good as the devil) is contributing wherever he can.
And that coaching staff – that brilliant coaching staff that somehow loses asset after asset year after year while still managing to stay on top of things behind Gregg Popovich as he grimaces through another 48 minutes – put it all together. This league belongs to its players, buy holy lord were these San Antonio Spurs players ready to pounce when it came time to line up against the Grizzlies. The Spurs knew the score, whether it was nil-nil, or 84-69.
San Antonio has eight days “off” between now and the start of the NBA Finals. Fear this team.
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