San Antonio has won four NBA world championships in the Tim Duncan era, and the all-world big man still isn't done. This year he is chasing down what would be his fifth championship ring, his fourth with his "Texas Triumvirate" of pointguard Tony Parker and swingman Manu Ginobili. Funny how three guys with provenance outside the continental United States where the game was born are once again in contention for the ultimate prize in professional basketball. "I just want to keep winning because I'm already feeling my body telling me it might be time to lay off a bit," Duncan said. He's pushing 40, and that is a dangerous age by NBA standards, not that it shows in his game though. He's still getting rebounds, blocking or altering shots, and taking opposing 5's and 4's to school going box to box and operating in the paint.
As of this writing they were at 2-0 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team many experts and pundits believed would finally be making their first trip to the NBA Finals, maybe even win the 2011-2012 world title. Then they ran into the Spurs. That last win by Duncan and Company now have them at a record-setting 20-game winning streak extending back to the regular season, eclipsing the similar 19-game regular-to-post season win streak by the Los Angeles Lakers in their own 2001 title romp. Parker led the way in this game, ably aided by Ginobili and of course Duncan.
You would not have known it the way head coach Greg Popovich was in Parker's ear at one point late in the third quarter with the Silver and Black ahead by 16 points. He's been yelling at me for 11 years, so what else is new," exclaimed Parker in the post-game interviews with a broad smile. That response drew an equally big smile from Popovich.
Playing as well as they have in these NBA Playoffs, sweeping easily through the Utah Jazz and another upstart young team in the Los Angeles Clippers, these Spurs practically told the entire NBA, "Don't count us oldtimers out just yet." Utah was somewhat expected given the youth, inexperience and dearth of talent in this present iteration of the once-fearsome Jazz. It was different against the Clippers though, especially since this once sadsack franchise now has a legitimate leader in pointguard Chris Paul, and the emergent mega-athlete Blake Griffin.
Both teams were swept clear off the floor with a lot of pick-roll, screen-the-screener, backdoor, quick outlet passes, the requisite tough defense and a bunch of other "old school" tricks from the Spurs. "You knew it was coming and you still just stood there and took it and couldn't figure out how to stop it," said one long-time assistant coach on a rival west coast team whose team did not make these playoffs. He may as well have been speaking for the Clippers and Jazz. Oklahoma City is finding out firsthand exactly what this coach was talking about.
Oklahoma City was no slouch coming into these Western Conference Finals either, losing only once in the previous playoff rounds - to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers - and essentially coming off dominating their own first and second rounds. They've already lost twice in this series versus San Antonio, and are in the unfamiliar spot of being behind in a playoff series. "We just couldn't recover after we fell behind as big as we did, not against this team," said newly-crowned NBA Best 6th Man James Harden.
Someone should have told the Thunder that facing the Spurs, rejuvenated as they seem to be now, is a totally different proposition from taking down the dysfunctional Lakers. There always seems to be someone to blame on the Lakers, but the Spurs are practically family. Their Big 3 of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been playing together for a decade or so. None of them know any other team. "I will retire here, we have homes and friends and relationships here," Duncan said in a separate interview.
It would be a basketball purist's wet dream if they can set up an NBA Finals date against the Boston Celtics, another team long in the NBA tooth looking to go for at least one more great run at championship glory. They need to get past a much bigger hurdle though, as LeBron James has been more force of nature than NBA superstar in these playoffs, and he is ably supported by an almost-force of nature in Dwayne Wade, with evil genius Pat Riley pulling the strings. It is not helping the Boston cause that Rey Allen is essentially playing on only one good ankle, and Rajon Rondo's got a trick lumbar.
That the Celtics even got this far in the playoffs in a tough Eastern Conference is already a bit of a miracle. They did it in much the same way the Spurs did, lots of "old school tricks" that were once referred to as "fundamentals of the game". Had they been 100% healthy they may have breezed through
Updated 06-01-2012 at 12:47 AM by gameface_one