The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA Champions. That’s not an unfamiliar sentence, just one we haven’t said in seven years, which is approximately the time everyone’s been saying the core of this team was on its way out.
The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is older and slower, sure; in a league that’s in constant change, leaning towards more small-ball and more perimeter play, the old school Spurs Twin-Tower mode seemed outdated. And so the Spurs adapted. Like their offense, they’re always in motion; never still, never getting caught.
The thing with the Spurs is that they still carry those old school values – the unselfish team work, the system – and yet bring a ball movement and efficiency never seen before in the NBA. What Greg Popovich’s team is doing is almost surgical; there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop an offense like that. It really is an amazing thing to watch.
But it’s more than just X’s and O’s. This team’s most amazing feat happens culture-wise. We’re in an era where big stars rule the day. In the post-Michael Jordan NBA, stars are the order of the day. The Lebron James and Kevin Durants and Blake Griffins of the world might be getting all the attention, but the Spurs quietly do their job, and they do it without big brand players.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter who’s on the court for the Spurs. Pop would sit Duncan and Parker for a few stretches during the fourth quarters of these playoffs. No coach would ever do that with his two best players, and yet it never seems to affect the Spurs. The rotation is so strong and everyone so aware of their role, that they don’t miss a beat. Sometimes Boris Diaw will be the hero, or Patty Mills, or Danny Green; anyone can do it, and that’s the confidence that comes from knowing exactly who they are and what their role is. A player will not beat you; the system will.
Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford have made sure the team is stacked with international players whose personalities and style of play fit within their system. In part it is a very European style; depending heavily on ball movement and finding the open man. There are no isolation plays or hero ball in San Antonio, just the right play; the one that gives you the best chance to win.
They’ve accomplished what they’ve done without ego. Any player could get hot or take the last shot. And this is what makes them so dangerous; there’s no double-teaming anyone, or they’ll make you pay with a couple of expertly delivered passes and end with an uncontested layup or a wide-open three. You can ask Erik Spoelstra: There’s simply no way to stop that offense, other than to defend as hard as you can and hope they miss.
They have nine players who were born and learned to play basketball overseas. Tony Parker and Boris Diaw from France; Manu Ginobili from Argentina; Tiago Splitter from Brazil; Patty Mills and Aron Baynes from Australia; Marco Belinelli from Italy; Cory Joseph from Canada; and, of course, Tim Duncan from the US Virgin Islands.
Players and coaches alike have been saying this might be the best basketball they’ve ever seen, and I would have to agree. With the World Cup happening at the same time, the phrase “the beautiful game” has been on the media a lot, but it applies to these San Antonio Spurs as much as it does to any soccer national team.
With a budding young star like Kawhi Leonard – who was named the Finals MVP – and all the right pieces, a sixth title looks very achievable at this point. You might not be a Spurs fan, but if you like basketball, this team is an absolute joy to watch. Outside of San Antonio, this should just be everyone’s second favorite team.