Posted June 25, 2013

NBA Finals Game 7: Who needs victory and title more? San Antonio Spurs

2013 NBA Finals, Miami Heat, Rob Mahoney, San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan could win his fifth NBA championship on Thursday night. (Greg Nelson/SI)

Which team needs to win Thursday’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals more? Rob Mahoney argues for the Spurs below. Ben Golliver argues for the Heat here.

One way or another, Thursday night will resolve the long-winded NBA season. A champion will be crowned out of these thrilling Finals, and from that verdict will come all manner of reflection and judgment. There’s room to note that neither team’s history should be rewritten by the result, while also acknowledging that there’s much at stake. I suspect that most of the reflection on these Finals will dwell on Miami no matter the outcome, but San Antonio has a chance to cement a sustained greatness while validating its process with the ultimate prize.

Expectations

This would mark the fifth title for the pairing of Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich in a 16-year span — an outstanding total reached through seemingly impossible consistency. San Antonio made a more legitimate claim for contention in some of those years than others, but the Spurs have won 50 games (or the equivalent, in the case of the 1999 lockout campaign) every year of Duncan’s career. Calling that kind of accomplishment “historic” is almost a disservice to the still-active basketball institution, but the term nevertheless applies to one of the best-run franchises in basketball.

Lottery luck may have landed Duncan in San Antonio, but only through his and the franchise’s greater diligence are the Spurs in a position to claim a title in a third consecutive decade. With that kind of established pedigree, the Spurs have set the bar rather high — albeit not high enough to be considered favorites entering these Finals. They were expected to contend this season, and have done that. They were expected to compete, and have pushed the best team in basketball this season to a seventh, deciding game. They were expected to continue in the incredible tradition of high-level execution that this franchise has so carefully built over the last 16 years, and have certainly accomplished that much. They’ve done all that they were presumed to do and more (few expected the Spurs to make the Finals at the start of the playoffs), and could do one better in snaring the title on the road.

That said, Duncan, Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili hardly need the widespread confirmation that would come with winning that title. Their credentials in their respective roles are proven and secure already, minted in gold with wins together in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Still, this may well be the Spurs’ last best chance to win it all while relying so heavily on this core.

Legacy

That core has had a remarkable basketball lifetime, but it’s also been so good for so long that we risk overlooking what this fifth championship would mean as an endorsement of the Spurs’ process. It’s no secret that San Antonio runs an impeccable operation, but Duncan’s consistency, in particular, overshadows a franchise that is always on the move, tactically.

As the league changed, so too did Popovich’s lineups and strategies. He lined his roster with perimeter shooting as the league’s rules changed to put a premium on floor spacing. He cultivated Parker’s talent as a scoring guard and empowered him as a primary creator. He co-opted the Suns’ spread pick-and-roll as a base format for his offense, moving away from stodgy post play. His team refined its performance and its style on both sides of the ball, most recently climbing back into the defensive elite on the basis of Duncan’s rejuvenation and some minor tactical tweaks.

That the Spurs have been able to accomplish so much while in a state of constant adjustment screams, to me, the value of their ingenuity. The league’s best teams will largely be those that are intellectually curious enough to understand that their way isn’t the only way or categorically the best. Popovich understands this. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford understands this. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and every Spur down the line understands this, or, at the very least, trusts the leadership enough to buy in to that notion.

None of this will change in the event of a loss on Thursday. The Spurs’ ultimate legacy lies in the power of their ethos and infrastructure as much as Duncan’s bank shot or Parker’s floater — a fact that would only be better and more widely understood in the event of another title. San Antonio managed to reinvent itself through continuity, and in the finale of a championship series, this group has the opportunity to broadcast the value of that process to the entire basketball world. Executives all across the league have long been paying attention to the Spurs’ operation, but this is one more — and perhaps one last — chance, after four relatively quiet titles and a decade and a half of muted admiration, to remind the public at large of the enduring value of a team run right.

Future

Though we can take nothing away from Duncan’s accomplishments this year, time will inevitably catch up with the all-time great, to the point where he can no longer bear such a considerable burden. San Antonio is positioned well to continue shifting the 37-year-old’s responsibilities elsewhere, but those days for transition are coming.

Plus, Ginobili is in even more discouraging shape, as the soon-to-be 36-year-old guard has proved to be particularly erratic in these playoffs. He still has his moments, his minutes, his games, but Ginobili’s ambitious style of play and gradually dwindling minutes hardly make him what he once was. There’s still room in his game to yield helpful stretches, but this Spurs team is already relying on Ginobili less and less. With his deal set to expire this summer, he could well retire. It seems likely he’ll return, however, and simply shade a bit closer to the background. But at this point his inclusion as a member of the Spurs’ Big Three is more out of respect for tenure and accomplishment than an implication that he can consistently perform on Parker’s and Duncan’s level.

Parker isn’t going anywhere, and between Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and even Tiago Splitter, San Antonio should have plenty to work with in tweaking the roles and responsibilities throughout this roster. But the fact that Duncan and Ginobili have already seen their best days doesn’t bode quite as well for a 2014 push, when the field figures to be healthier and even more competitive. There should be no doubt that San Antonio will be present and likely contending next season, but we could see Duncan and Ginobili start succumbing to the limitations of age. This group — Popovich included — is closer to the end of its run, and for that reason alone it has more at stake than the still-spry stars anchoring the Heat.

8 comments
spurslose
spurslose

The Spurs received "gifts" (twice) from the NBA lottery in the form of two Hall of Fame centers.  Then they used ball-kicking, head-butting, and body-checking of Steve Nash to beat the Suns in the Conference finals.  And let's not forget some corrupt NBA referee game-fixing to throw a Suns series to the Spurs too.  Of course with advantage like that they were bound to win a few titles, but it was good to see their legacy tarnished tonight by Miami.

ZavierSmedley
ZavierSmedley

IF THE SPURS GO UP BY 10 THE SPURS THEY NEED TO GIVE GREEN AND NEIL THE BALL TO BURY THE HEAT WITH THREE POINTERS. DOUBLE LEBRON AND MAKE SURE HE DOESNT GET EASY BASKETS MAKE HIM SHOOT! DONT LET RAY ALLEN SHOOT ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE COURT MAKE HIM SHOOT FROM THE LEFT SIDE AND PRESSURE BOTH HIM AND MILLER THEY WONT DRIVE OFF DRIBBLE THEY JUST WANT TO SHOOT ESPECIALLY MILLER!

TONY PARKER NEEDS TO SHRED THE HEAT AND DEAD EYE SCORE IN THE PAINT IF NOTHING IS OPEN KICK OUT TO GREEN AND SHOOTERS OR RUN A PLAY FOR DUNCAN. Make sure GINOBLI is on the attack off the screen n roll if they collapse kick to open player all day long. PARKER AND GINOBLI HAVE TO BE AGRESSIVE OFF PICK N ROLLS . SPURS MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS AND THIS IS ANOTHER BANNER AND RING FOR DUNCAN TO RETIRE WITH BOOOOOM. SPURS LETS FINISH THEM!

ZavierSmedley
ZavierSmedley

DEFENSIVELY SAN ANTONIO NEEDS TO NOT ALLOW LEBRON JAMES TO POST UP PERIOD. DO NOT ALLOW RAY ALLEN TO SHOOT FROM HIS RIGHT AND JUST SHOOT FROM THE LEFT SIDE WHICH HE CAN MAKE BUT HE SHOOTS A LOWER%. DO NOT ALLOW MIKE MILLER TO SHOOT PERIOD HE CANT DRIBBLE AROUND SO PLAY HIM CLOSE. MAKE CHRIS BOSH SHOOT CONTESTED SHOTS AND KEEP HIM OUT OF THE PAINT AND OFF THE BOARDS. MAKE WADE SHOOT CONTESTED JUMPSHOTS HE DOESNT LIKE. PRESSURE LEBRON AND MAKE HIM PASS AND MAKE HIS BENCH MAKE SHOTS?

OFFENSIVELY THE SPURS MUST ALLOW PARKER TO SHRED THROUGH THE DEFENSE IN TRANSITION AND IF HE CANT SCORE PULL OUT SET UP PLAYS OR KICK IT TO GREEN AND THE SHOOTERS. GREEN HAS TO STROKING THAT FLICK SHOT WITH SUPREME FORM AND BE AGRESSIVE AT TIMES.

IF THE SPURS GO UP BY TEN SEND IN THE SHOOTERS TO LET IT FLY TO BURY THE

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

Great piece about LeBron and redemption!

Game 7 Offers LeBron Something Jordan Never Had

http://goldengatesports.com/2013/06/20/nba-finals-game-7-offers-lebron-something-jordan-never-had/

"His Airness knew no such mortal defects, and we deified him for his perceived perfection, but failure is at the very core of being human, and overcoming the scars it leaves on our psyche is a testament to a different  kind of greatness, one that requires overcoming opponents of our own making, while offering a reward that’s far more personal. "



ChiefX
ChiefX

I'm a Suns fan and I still want the Spurs to win.  I know it's sacrilegious in my town to root for the Spurs, but that's how much I don't like the Heat.  "Chosen 1", my a**.  I would rather the Western Conference takes the title any day of the week.

marino.eccher
marino.eccher

A win would be nice for San Antonio, but Miami absolutely needs it more. The legacies of Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Pop are all secure - great champions, standard of excellence, model franchise. If they win, great; if not, they fought the good fight.

The legacies of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Spoelstra (and for the latter two, perhaps the jobs) swing in no small part on this game. If they win, they're in elite company and in great position to lay claim to this decade. It also puts LeBron and Wade closer to a truly elite number of titles. A loss washes away the whole stellar season, brings on all kinds of baggage and wastes a year of the core's prime.

As much as the clock is ticking for San Antonio, it's also ticking for this version of the Heat. The salary cap is a mess with the current Big 3 structure, most of the key role players are 33 or older and they're woefully short on young talent or meaningful draft picks. It's probably a bit much to say the whole Big 3 experiment rides on tonight, but it's not a stretch to say this particular cast might not get too many more shots.




Sami
Sami

@humdrumdrumhumming Great piece? In what sense? Comparing an athlete who is in his athletic prime to a guy playing on his last legs while carrying his injured team to a championship, that's a valid comparison statistically for you? Really?

On a statistical front, MJ averaged 30+ppg and 10+apg vs the Lakers and Magic, and 40+ppg vs the Suns. The Suns season was MJ's ultimate prime. He was nowhere near the player after returning from baseball. He was just smart and he changed his game accordingly, but the two years away took its toll.

And there were game 7's along the way, like in 92 vs the Knicks. Just not in the Finals. But it's always someone when it comes to these comparisons. First it was Grant Hill, who got hurt. Then it was Kobe, now it's LBJ. And in 10-15 years it's someone else.

All I know is MJ never scored 18ppg in the NBA Finals, with 2+ points per game in the 4th quarter. MJ didn't lose a single playoff series when the team had home court advantage. Not one. Zero. And they still won their share of playoff series as an away team.

For someone to be better than the best player of all time, it would take a magical run of consistency and especially during playoff time. Lebron has already proven that he's not it. Still a great player, but night in and night out? Not even close.