SAN ANTONIO – The Big Three can still deliver playoff performances that leave everyone lost over a sense of time and place, performances when Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili refuse decline and defeat in moments of truth. These forever San Antonio Spurs don't always do it together now, but it is remarkable the way they can still rise to the drama and demands of a Game 7.
When uncertainty comes, these old legs can still summon the muscle memory of playoff genius. These Spurs never go away, and never stop coming – unstoppable on Sunday, a 119-96 obliteration of the Mavericks. Every elimination game could be the end of their historic run, but they've been far too engaged in the moment to ever give that the thought everyone else does.
"I never think about that – about the end of era – even last year in the Finals," Ginobili told Yahoo Sports on Sunday. "You just think about you've worked seven or eight months, you've had a great season and you don't want to lose the opportunity."
He smiled and said, "I think we proved today that we didn't want to go on vacation."
The Spurs had struggled to extract themselves out of the Mavericks' death grip in this Western Conference series. These were old times, an old nemesis, and finally the Spurs found themselves leaning on the old core to get themselves out of harm's way. Ginobili whizzed passes through the legs of Dallas defenders and flipped lobs to Duncan. Parker dazzled on the dribble, beating the defense to the rim for layups and long jumpers.
Parker had 32 points. Ginobili had 20 points, five assists and six steals. Duncan had 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Together, they made 23 of 34 shots. Together, they move onto the conference semifinals where these Portland Trail Blazers have emerged as one more talented and determined young team trying to take out the four-time champions and the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.
All these years, and it is remarkable to watch young team upon team get its talent together and come calling on the conference's standard, the Spurs. Damian Lillard is a young Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a superstar in the best season of his life. Shooters everywhere, and an old Rose Garden that's been waiting decades to take apart these Spurs in the postseason.
Yes, it's the Blazers' turn now. Game 1 on Tuesday at the AT&T Center.
"For us, this is like the Warriors were last year," Ginobili said. "This year, it's Portland. These young teams, they've been getting their pieces together for a few years, and Portland got the last pieces it needed – [Robin] Lopez and the bench. For us, this is as tough of a team as you can face."
The Spurs have a collective basketball IQ that'll give them an edge against the young, uneven Blazers bench, but Portland has playmaking athleticism and shooting that'll be a problem for the Spurs. Aldridge and Lillard damaged the Spurs in the regular season, inspiring coach Gregg Popovich to say, "They have guys on that team that we haven't guarded yet."
In a postseason that's been spectacular, the Blazers-Spurs has a chance to be a classic. After Game 7, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford stood in the hallway outside the locker room, teasing Parker about something and getting him to laugh that easy laugh that comes only after surviving a fight for their lives in these playoffs.
This won't go on forever with the Spurs, and every Game 7 hangs over them like there will never be another. Only this time, the Spurs found a way, and now these young legs and brazen talent come for that old core, come to crumble up that Spurs dynasty and toss it away once and for all. All these young teams, young stars, have been trying forever. The Spurs are still standing, still the Western Conference champions. Game 1 on Tuesday night.