The End For San Antonio?
The San Antonio Spurs may or may not be preparing for their final game of the season tonight at AT&T Center. The defending champions trail 3-2 against the New Orleans Hornets and need to win the next two games or prepare to hand off the Larry O'Brien trophy to one of the six remaining teams in the playoffs.
That isn't bad news to most people I know. I've had a number of conversations in the past few weeks with people who are rooting heavily against the Spurs and hoping that they won't advance against the Hornets.
Most of the complaints center around wanting too see some new blood. Some folks think the Spurs - Bruce Bowen, in particular - are dirty. But the primary reason they give for not wanting to see the Spurs anymore is based on a common theme that I believe is based mostly on perception than reality: The Spurs are boring.
You've heard it before. Heck, I've written it before. After the Spurs defeated the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals last season, I wrote that the fun was gone from the postseason. And it was.
The teams that make it to the conference finals and the NBA Finals are the ones that play suffocating defense, and unfortunately, that usually leads to a championship series with few games reaching triple digits. Plus, we all know that defense it not entertaining.
That being said, the Spurs are not boring. They are anything but. How can a team with two of the 10 most exciting players in the NBA - Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili - be boring?
I can't think of a player who gets from the three-point line to the rim faster than Parker. When he lowers his head and decides to accelerate, there really is no stopping him. It's a thrill to watch when he gets on a roll.
Ginobili is what you get when you mix a running back with tornado. He runs and twists into the lane, spinning and bouncing off of people. He's also left-handed which makes his drives even more unorthodox and unpredictable.
If you had to list the 10 most exciting players - and this is strictly from an entertainment standpoint - in the NBA, it would go something like this, in no particular order: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, a healthy Gilbert Arenas, Parker, Ginobili and either Josh Smith or Monta Ellis. I might be missing somebody, but that's just off the top of the dome.
But the reason why most casual fans consider the Spurs boring is because they have the most unassuming superstar ever in Tim Duncan. He rarely lets people who aren't close to him inside his personality. I've been around him in smaller settings and I've found him to be pretty hilarious.
I remember going to San Antonio during the preseason before the 2006-07 season, and Tim was in rare form. He answered every question with a funny joke. I asked him about why the Spurs have such great chemistry and he told me it wasn't true.
"We fight all the time," Duncan said, without changing his expression. Then he said that he duked it out with Tony Parker the night before and gave him a black eye. "You see that he didn't do media today."
He kept a straight face the entire time.
One of my favorite stories about Duncan was when I was covering the 2004 Athens Olympics. I was talking to Duncan one-on-one and right in the middle of the conversation, he stopped, started picking up his shoes and sweats and scooting away.
He didn't say, "I have to go." Or "I'm done." He just stopped talking and jetted. I thought that he was upset with my line of questioning - since Team USA didn't really represent in getting the bronze that summer - but when I turned around, I saw about five reporters and a TV camera headed towards his chair. He was cool just talking to me, but he didn't want to do the group session.
Since Duncan isn't willing to be much more than the Big Fundamental and destroy opponents in his methodical fashion, the Spurs are branded as dull. It's evident by the terrible ratings whenever the Spurs reach the NBA Finals. I've covered their past three trips and I will admit, those series against New Jersey (2003) and Cleveland (2007) were horrific to put it lightly. But I can't think of a more thrilling three-game run than the end of that Spurs-Pistons series in 2005.
I also think the Spurs have been a part of two of the best playoffs series in the past three years - the seven-game Western Conference semifinal against Dallas in 2006 and the six-gamer against Phoenix last year.
I'm not writing this because I think the Spurs are done tonight - or in this series. I still think that they are the champs until they've been knocked out and the referee signals that it's over. I just think that folks should have a greater appreciation for this team and its ability to play and succeed playing every style imaginable. It's not their fault that the final rounds come down to defense - okay, maybe it is a little, but that's only because they do such a great job of shutting down their opponents.
But given the Spurs' playoff history, it shouldn't be a shock if they take a bow against New Orleans. Here are some interesting numbers to consider.
The Spurs have never won a championship in an even numbered year (thus, no back-to-back titles).
The past three times they won the championship, the Spurs were eliminated in the second round the next season (in 2002 and 2004 against the Lakers and in 2006 against Dallas; in 2000, the Spurs lost in the first round because Duncan was out with a knee injury).
They have never come back to win a series after trailing 0-2. It's happened four times before and in each instance, their opponent went on the win the NBA championship.
The Spurs are 4-6 when facing elimination in the Tim Duncan era.
San Antonio is hoping that being home will provide a big enough boost, because their play in New Orleans - especially in the third quarter of those games - has been unbelievably bad. They've lost by 19 in Game 1, 18 in Game 2 and 22 in Game 5. Yet somehow, they've whipped the Hornets by 20 in Game 4 and 11 in Game 3.
It's just hard to imagine the defending champs letting their season end in their own building. It should be a fun game to watch.
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