The old, slow, monotonous Spurs have been done for a while and are done this year too. Their players can’t run fast enough, they can’t jump high enough, they aren’t exciting enough, and on and on and on. This has been the rhetoric for the past few years.
The results of the last couple postseasons had only emboldened the Spur’s critics and legitimized the scrutiny. The Spurs seemed far from their championship form when they lost to the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2010-2011 postseason, and the end of an era was proclaimed after their exit in the Western Conference Finals following four consecutive defeats to the Thunder in the previous postseason. The balance of power in the NBA had finally shifted. The torch was (as David Stern no doubt had hoped for) finally passed from Tim Duncan and the Spurs to more exciting players and teams like Kevin Durant and the Thunder, Lebron James and the Heat, or even Blake Griffin/Chris Paul and the Clippers. This was to be the new NBA, one dominated by athleticism and show, ostentation and glamor. But, if there is one thing we should know and expect from the Spurs, it is that they will relentlessly prepare, relentlessly battle, and relentlessly fight for another chance to compete for a championship.
Often overstated and over-applied, the term has somewhat lost its effectiveness, but the Spurs exemplify a winning “culture.” Success has become engrained in the franchise. With each ensuing year, the urgency for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker to succeed would only grow; Inevitably, as they continue to battle the yet undefeated effects of father time, their window for ultimate success was and is closing. But with each annual defeat, the passion of the old, wily veterans would only grow. The spirits and drive for ultimate success would be reignited with more intensity with each successive loss. No, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich are not used to losing. That isn’t part of who they are. They expect, knowing how hard they work, to win every year. They finally made it back to a place that seems only deserving for a team like the Spurs.
The style the Spurs play may not be conducive to the average, casual fan. They don’t light up the highlight reel with dunks, nor does Tim Duncan have the most exciting of moves. But what should be noticed and applauded, appreciated far more than a few dunks, is the the pure, team-oriented style of Spurs basketball: the spacing, the passing, the defense, and above all else, the sense of team and the subsequent effort. All the Spurs players have each others’ backs. As Popovich succinctly put it, “we play together and trust each other….we do it as a group.”
The Spurs are back to a familiar place, and it may be the last time in a long time that they visit their old stomping ground. But their gameplay, seemingly non-existent among the rest of the NBA, has aged just as well as its players. It’ll seem like deja vu, and maybe it is. When the Spurs step onto the court, facing the young brilliance of a new generation, they will be as they have always been, they will step onto the court as they have always done, and they will enter the final step of what seems deservingly theirs – the elusive title of NBA champions once again.