With an eye towards yet another title and a plan for the future, San Antonio is leaving no shades of gray about just how good they can be
Perhaps symbolic, San Antonio ditched their gray alts that they had worn at home all post-season, for their traditional whites on Tuesday Night. That was preceded by handing out black t-shirts adorned with their familiar, albeit boring ‘U’ Spur logo to all fans in attendance.
The AT&T Center looked more like a sea of darkness than a celebration, almost mockingly taking on Miami’s customary white outs. There was no gray to be found.
No sass, no sizzle, just straight forward. It was as if the Spurs organization said to their fans, tonight is a gift to ‘U.’
The Spurs hadn’t been back at home in the Finals since shredding LeBron James’ heavily over-matched Cavs in a forgettable Finals beat-down. That was 2007, a cool 6 years earlier.
The crowd hooted and hollered, ready to go, back in the ‘ship, with a marquee opponent on their court, in their den. This would not be a typical Tuesday night in the hoops-happy Alamo.
If only the Heat knew.
Maybe they would have shown up in a game that quickly saw the Spurs take the lead, and impose their will on a Miami team shrinking more by the moment. Maybe LeBron would have looked more for ‘his’ and not so much for the others, if he knew that a storm of epic proportions was about to come ashore on Miami’s title hopes. Maybe, Mike Miller would have shot the ball every time he touched it, if he knew his teammates would give him one half and then bow out in a stunning white-washing.
Maybe none of it would have mattered.
Whatever the case, the Spurs seized momentum early and then controlled the pace throughout, lapping the Heat up like a Mario Kart race gone wrong en route to a demoralizing 36 point triumph.
Wake up call? Perhaps.
Or maybe it’s more.
Regardless, San Antonio’s historic showcase beyond the arc netted them a NBA Finals record 16 threes. They plowed Miami into the worst loss of the Big Three Era. Though, you could argue, Miami is just down to ‘Era.’ Because there’s been nothing big about any of their three this series.
Perhaps LeBron is worn down from carrying the load for so long, and his teammates fluctuating performance is wearing on him. Maybe he lost his jump-shot on Biscayne Boulevard.
Or for a change, maybe this is simply about San Antonio.
Maybe this is about a team that reloaded, instead of rebuilt. Maybe the Spurs are just one step ahead of Miami and two steps ahead of everyone else. Most striking about this 2013 playoff run is the fact that San Antonio appears improbably not just reloaded for life after Duncan, but in position to be elite for another 5-10 years.
And here-in lies the praise:
San Antonio looks not just at the present, but always with an eye towards the not-so-far-off future. They develop players who not only contribute, but shine. They recognize elite international talent, and they season it, so that when the time comes for the big call up, their guys are not just ready, they’re rolling.
They didn’t want to get rid of George Hill, but they turned him into Kawhi Leonard. Danny Green was a scrap-heap pickup, whom they dumped multiple times. But rather saying ‘it’s not you, it’s me,’ and moving on, the Spurs reconcile. Not just with Green, but even way back when with guys like Steve Kerr. They’ve built a culture where players rotate right into position, like those soda machines which simply slide up the next can when you take one out.
You don’t get to this stage without stars, but San Antonio has something scarier: they have a system. They groom these guys for these moments, giving their young talent important minutes in the regular season, while their big guns get plenty of rest for the second season. The Spurs practice what they preach and their continuity cannot be over-stated. Nor can 16 straight playoff appearances.
But most importantly, unlike Miami, they can win without star showcases. Everyone on their team is capable of a star turn, and unlike most teams, the Spurs happily accept the fact that their roles are not set in stone. In some ways there’s no pressure, just passing. There’s patience exercised in potency.
Last night, LeBron said something very telling in the locker-room, surrounded by a horde of reporters: ‘If they’re going to give me those open jump shots, I have to make them.” I’m para-phrasing, but the point appeared to be an incorrect calculation. James confessed that he needed to do better at hitting those 15-18 ft jump shots that the Spurs are bating him into taking, when really he needs to drive to the basket.
Too much emphasis is made on Miami’s stars. Sure, there are some games that the supporting cast doesn’t show up, but more importantly, if you look on the otherside, the Spurs don’t let that ever affect their game-plan.
They pass you to death until they find the look they want, and any crack that you show, they exploit it. Patience pays off. The Spurs do it better than anyone. Rarely if ever do the Spurs turn to ‘hero ball’ – the act of one player trying to do everything. They fill their roles, but they recognize that their roles can change from night to night.
If anything, the Spurs are like a small agency with the cajones and experience of a global power. They’re constantly overlooked, annually counted out, and ridiculously well-rounded. Everyone wears multiple hats.
Before the game, the Countdown Crew wondered aloud if the Spurs could beat the Heat without 10-15 points from Manu Ginobili, who had struggled mightily in game 2. He gave them 7. Tony Parker got hurt and contributed just 6 points. Tim Duncan had 12. And San Antonio lit up Miami like they stole something.
Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State) is just 21 and quickly blossoming into a big-time talent. Danny Green (North Carolina) is just 25. Tiago Splitter (Brazil) and Gary Neal (Towson) are 28. Even Parker is just 31 and figures to have 4-5 more good seasons left. Like any team, the Spurs carry a 15 man roster. Unlike most teams, nearly half of those guys are international talents.
You’ve probably never heard of Nando De Colo, but he’s a back-up point guard from France whose name you may hear one day. He played very little this season, but in a four game stretch back in March, he scored double digits in points three times.
One step ahead.
Groom ‘em early, bring ‘em along later. That’s the San Antonio strategy, and it’s why they’re not only positioned to win another ring, but in great shape to continue contending annually moving forward.
The Heat, well they have the opposite approach. It’s all about home-grown guys for Pat Riley, who is stuck in the 20th century with his short-sighted approach of ignoring international talent.
What’s scarier for Miami, is the fact that the Heat’s decline this post-season is more than just notable. It’s the elephant in the room. They haven’t won back to back games since taking game 5 versus the Bulls, and surviving game 1 against Indiana. They’re a perplexing 5-5 in their last 10, and they can no longer survive on the win 1, lose 1 mentality they employed against the Pacers. They have to win game 4, and then they probably have to take game 5. Somewhere in this Finals series they’re going to have to win back to back games.
I said the other day that Miami has earned the benefit of the doubt, but they’re leaning against that growing wall of concern with way too much consistency. It’s about the only thing they’ve consistently been this post-season: inconsistent.
Moving forward, the Heat have a team built to win now, and designed to crumble quickly later. That second part wasn’t intentional, but to get James and Bosh, the Heat had to trade off valuable draft-picks and sacrifice grooming guys for the future. When you look at this current Heat team long-term, there’s Norris Cole… and who else?
But this isn’t about Miami. This is about the Spurs. They humbled a Heat team with everything on the line and a total lack of urgency. They blitzed them the way Miami tortured them in a 33-5 outburst in game 2. The Spurs said to the world, we too have another gear. And we don’t need our stars to fuel it (a 63-33 second half explosion pretty much told the story).
We’ve seen in this series and in many Miami series that each game has its own story-line. This one was about a team built to thrive, no matter who does the heavy lifting compared to their opponent, a squad tilting constantly side to side, teetering on the brink of shattering.
It’s just one game and as James said, you only get one win no matter how bad of a ‘smashing’ it is. But this is Miami’s last chance. We’ve seen Miami seize the ‘3’ in the 2-3-2 Finals format before to propel them to multiple championships. Now, they’re staring at the reverse possibility: failing to get back to Miami, smothered by an assault of Spurs in an arena which could be their black hole.
It’s not too late, but time is ticking. The future waits for no one. Unless of course you’re the Spurs and you plan for it.
Legacies depend on it.
Popularity: 12% [?]