SAN ANTONIO – If they were just another immature team, the San Antonio Spurs would have listened to nine days of talk about the greatness of LeBron James and the excitement of the Cleveland Cavaliers and started yapping about disrespect, reminding everyone about their three championship rings and whining about this or that.
Instead, they admit they are "vanilla," understand that none of it matters and acknowledge that James is, after all, pretty fun to watch.
Then they come out in Game 1 of the NBA finals and, after working off a little rust, systematically dismantle the youthful Cavs 85-76.
"San Antonio," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, "was terrific."
San Antonio was San Antonio. Brown might as well get used to that. The hype heading into this series might have been about young King James, but the series is going to be about this old championship club, the one seeking its fourth title in nine years, the one that cares little about hype and intent on continuing to secure its place in history.
James was nothing special Thursday (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and for the Cavaliers that meant it was over. Cleveland can't win this series – heck, it can't win a game in this series – unless James is superhuman.
The Spurs are just too relentless, too steady and too balanced for anything less.
They dropped a ferocious defense on James and got their offense cranked up in the decisive third quarter. And that was just about that.
"They've got three guys around him," Brown said. "What they're doing is saying, 'Hey, somebody else beat us.' "
Good luck. This was right out of San Antonio's blueprint, nothing special except the execution of the game plan. Tim Duncan had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Tony Parker had 27 points. Manu Ginobili added 16 more. Bruce Bowen took defensive point duty on LeBron and was all over him, with plenty of help from his friends, of course.
And that was it. Any armchair analyst could have drawn that one up.
"All in all I think we did a pretty decent job," Duncan said.
The Spurs are classic. This is why people call them boring. They do what they are supposed to do. The fact that it includes some uptempo play, some aggressive defense and a lot of darting without the ball and flashy passes is lost in the demeanor.
San Antonio isn't boring on the court, just off of it. No chest pounding. No complaining. No worries. Everything is just "pretty decent."
"We are kind of the vanilla of the NBA," Ginobili told reporters before the series.
After a fairly convincing victory – a late Cavs rally made the score closer than it really was – the Spurs' locker room contained about as much excitement as following a preseason scrimmage, only with a lot more media looking for someone to say anything interesting.
Instead, everyone just went about there business. They were earnest, polite and open, just not real enthralling. Not that they care. It wasn't false humility; that's just the way they are.
"We won the game, we held them to 76 points," Duncan said in a flat-line tone. "That's right where we need to be."
For Cleveland, this is the frightening reality of this series. San Antonio is better at four of the five positions, and the Spurs have veterans and great coaching and are absolutely and completely focused on winning this thing.
The Cavaliers don't just have to get a little better in Game 2; they have to get a lot better. San Antonio hardly broke a sweat in winning this one.
The Cavs aren't going to get the emotional roller coaster that was the Pistons. They aren't playing a team that will beat itself. Not even once. Cleveland can bask in all the attention and love it wants, but San Antonio sees this championship as its birthright. The Spurs aren't handing it over without a monster fight.
But it is a fight they won't start. No complaining about a lack of respect, a lack of attention, a lack of praise. No giving the Cavaliers anything to get fired up about.
San Antonio would rather slowly grind Cleveland down, methodically work both ends of the court and squeeze the air right out of the Cavs until this series is over. Because this is the NBA finals and this is business and no one finishes its business as well as the Spurs.
- San Antonio