Spurs' fall arriving sooner than expected

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

Everyone's eyes can see the truth unfolding on the floor, and yes, the crumbling of the San Antonio Spurs' dynasty is a jarring spectacle. Fading fast now, a proud, old champion has struggled to stay with the talented bodies, young legs and hungry hearts out of Memphis. The Grizzlies tanked the final games of the season for a chance to obliterate the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and Tim Duncan(notes) sounded so offended. There would be a price for Memphis to pay for such blatant disregard.

Only Duncan's no longer able to exact revenge on the Spurs' honor. San Antonio is down 3-1 to the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and this feels far less like an upset and far more like an inevitability. The Spurs reconstructed themselves to play faster, freer and far less dependent on Duncan. They had no choice, but San Antonio suddenly seems far more constructed for the long run of the regular season than the grind of the playoffs.

Spurs owner Peter Holt always insisted: He was going down with Duncan. It was admirable, fitting and just. Only now, the time has come.

The Spurs are going down with Tim Duncan.

One year ago this week, Holt watched the Spurs sputter through most of the regular season, cling to the seventh seed and still beat an old rival, the Dallas Mavericks, in the first round of the playoffs. It was a magnificent victory, validating for the Gregg Popovich and RC Buford regime because it convinced them they were justified in staying with the program.

"We looked at the history of all this, and asked, 'Should we try this or not?' " Holt told me. "And we realized – it's worth it. Let's keep doing it – transitioning without crashing. That's what we're trying to do, but also our goal is to win a championship this year so we said, 'Let's go after it again.' "

The thirtysomething Spurs had won again. Only, they would get swept in the conference semifinals by the Phoenix Suns. Almost a year later, the Spurs have won 61 regular-season games, and it feels so much like a mirage.

This isn't to say this series is over, because the Spurs have too much pride, too much invested. It isn't your eyes that don't want to count out the Spurs, but a sense. It isn't logical, but much, much more based upon emotion.

The Grizzlies were the anti-Spurs for so long: a small market with a bad GM and bad owner that squandered resources and lost games at an alarming rate. No more. Popovich is out of wisecracks about the NBA needing to convene a committee to stop such trades as the Pau Gasol(notes) deal. Now, it makes sense: Marc Gasol(notes), Pau's brother, was a keeper. The prospects kept coming to the Grizzlies, melded together, and now San Antonio gets trampled with something that feels like a perfect storm.

The Spurs haven't been the team that David Stern wants to promote because they never drew national television ratings. They don't do drama and soap operas. Popovich never kissed the commissioner's ass and it cost him the Olympic coaching job. The Spurs have been the team that the high school coaches watch with notebooks and pens, and tell their kids to watch over Blake Griffin(notes). They're the champions of the purists. They stand for something – substance over style, subtlety over gaudiness.

It isn't over. The Spurs are down 3-1, and yet the Grizzlies will still need some kind of final punch to lay them out. The Spurs still have a resolve about themselves, a deeper, more determined place that they can dig up for a Game 5 in San Antonio. Nevertheless, the Grizzlies have gone to great lengths to embarrass the Spurs, and still resistance seems futile.

The Grizzlies deliberately tanked the regular season's final weeks to make sure they would get San Antonio in the opening round and Tony Allen(notes) called out Manu Gionbili for faking an elbow injury. The Spurs tried to turn those slights into fuel, but it hasn't mattered. Whatever the Grizzlies want to do, they do. There's dignity to a dynasty dying in basketball, no ceremony. Holt always said he would go down with Duncan, and just maybe that's the case now for the Spurs. Through it all, your heart still tells you there's a final stand in the Alamo City on Wednesday night, a celebration of the black and silver that won't allow them to go down so easily to an eighth seed.

These playoffs have been different, and the Spurs know it. The Grizzlies are exploiting matchups everywhere on the floor. No one should declare the Spurs dead and gone because that franchise operates with too much pride, too much belief. Only, everyone's eyes are telling them the story of this opening-round series. Yes, it's jarring to watch a dynasty go down so suddenly, so hard.

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