Forget about everything said in the preseason. As long as Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and especially this season Tony Parker are somehow linked to the San Antonio Spurs, this team is in the running for the Western crown and the NBA title. It’s still early, but it’s pretty clear they aren’t going anywhere.
So the Oklahoma City Thunder were in the NBA final, and despite losing James Harden in a debatable trade have tow superstars who can win for them anytime. So the Los Angeles Lakers made (as always) the big signings and trades of the offseason, and are getting a head coach with a bit more pedigree and probably respect-getting from his own players.
Those two teams already lost to the Spurs in low scoring games. Twice on the final shot. Because the Spurs are the only NBA team that play “smart” basketball and stick to it, because they don’t have the kind of superstar which makes it easier for coaches to lazy-up on their thought and simply hand the game and the game-plan away, leaving it out of their control. The Thunder have always been about Durant and Westbrook’s individual ability to win games; The Lakers are still, despite all the nice camouflage, about whatever Kobe Bryant leaves for the rest.
The Spurs? Their about a team, with no neccesity for hierarchy and making it easier for the opposition to hone in on one or two individuals. There’s the talk about the Princeton offense, about the motion and about anyone being able to shoot if he’s open. Well, whatever it is that Pop is running with the Spurs isn’t exactly Princeton and there are the two pivots of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as the axis which the players and the team revolve around, but it’s getting things done, and more than one or two names involved in big plays.
On what other team does Danny Green get to take the game winning shot with less than 10 seconds to go, down 81-82? Not a whole lot. He wouldn’t be getting 30 minutes on a whole lot of teams. But he was the one left open after Kobe Bryant got distracted by the Tim Duncan screen and Stephen Jackson moving to the weak side. Trust in all your players breeds confidence in anyone to make open shots; even the big ones.
As usual, the story is much more about the guys who carried the Spurs to that position of a game winning shot than the guy who sank it. Tim Duncan finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. He’s averaging 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds so far this season, and while saying he’s looking rejuvenated would be a bit of an exaggeration due to the fact that he played really well last season, it’s hard to argue it isn’t a bit surprising to see him this fresh, physical and simply good at this stage of his career.
The Lakers simply didn’t know what to do with him and Tony Parker, allowing 38 points in the paint. The Spurs had a +9 while Duncan was on the floor. Tony Parker was at -9, but he was big in the final moments, finishing with 19 points and 7 assists, including six points in the final quarter.
The Spurs don’t have the biggest names in the West and are certainly a flawed team when it comes to certain matchups. But no one knows how to hide those flaws better than Popovich, maybe the biggest asset the Spurs have in the Conference, facing teams that are possibly more talented, but currently lack the kind of versatility and flexibility that make the Spurs the better team.