It’s happened to me a few times since 2007, the San Antonio Spurs fourth and final (to date) NBA title, all achieved under the Duncan-Popovic regime. That feeling, watching the Spurs lose in the playoffs and thinking that this group, that core group, doesn’t have too much to sell anymore.
It was very strong in 2009 after getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Mavericks (4-1), their first first round exit since 2000. It was strong again last year, when the Spurs got swept by the Suns in the Conference Semi Finals, the first time the Spurs got swept since the Western Finals in 2001. It seemed down was the only option.
So San Antonio got a few fixes, Popvich did some tweaking and out came another 60 win season and their first since 2006. A change of philosophy – a faster team, with Ginobili and Parker as the real leaders and Tim Duncan giving whatever he has left. The defense wasn’t the same – especially in the middle, where the Spurs just don’t have the strength anymore, but that offense carried them to the best record in the west. Still, health issues and overall fatigue seemed to hamper the Spurs’ record as the regular season ended.
In the playoffs as well. Memphis beat the Spurs 104-86 last night, running them off the floor. If it was the inside game in the first two wins, with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol destroying and dominating the paint, yesterday was dominating everywhere. Gasol and Randolph combined for 20 points but nine players scored at least 8 points, inside and outside. Mike Conley with 15 and Darrell Arthur with 14 led the scorers.
San Antonio? Tony Parker scored 23, Ginobili, not a 100% (when is he ever), probably the biggest problem for the Spurs every time they lose, added 14. The frontcourt just wasn’t there. Tim Duncan with 6, Antonio McDyess with 4 and Richard Jeffereson with a pathetic 0. There’s no one Popovich can go to for long stretches of the game besides Parker. The bench, the role players, who were suppose to give San Antonio the edge, well, didn’t. Behind the stats, the turnovers and all the problems is one thing – lack of energy. That’s where Memphis one yesterday, and that’s how they’re winning the series.
O.J. Mayo : That’s the clean version. And we need to get it together, and play with a lot of energy and play like we’re a desperate team. All year he’s been preaching that the desperate team usually wins, and we didn’t look very desperate that first half.
The second half, the Grizzlies looked desperate. Outscoring the Spurs 30-15 in the 3rd and 56-36 in the second half, the Grizzlies, without Rudy Gay for a long time need I remind you, they had more juice, as Manu Ginobili put it. We looked bad. They are a young squad. They are playing at home … for many of them the first time playing in the playoffs, so they had all the juice and we didn’t, said Ginobili.
So what now? Can Popvich charge his players for a tremendous comeback from 1-3? He needs to start with Game 5. He needs to find a way and get the ball out of Tony Parker all the time (7 turnovers). It’s just too easy for the Grizzlies. Getting George Hill more involved. Getting Duncan more involved, squeeze out any physicality he has left in him. With all his experience, the titles, the awards, he seems intimidated by Randolph and Gasol. Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him anymore to fight younger and stronger bodies. Maybe I’m wrong. Right now, the Grizzlies, when they push the button, are walking all over the Spurs.