Tim Duncan is 37. Manu Ginobili is 35. Tony Parker, the youngest of the Spurs’ famed trio, is 31. All three have significant mileage from NBA regular seasons, long playoff runs and international play.
Are they over the hill to the point San Antonio’s run finally ended?
It sure seems so, but I also realize the Spurs were a minute away from a championship this season. San Antonio was certainly good enough to win, but so were the Heat, and the breaks went in Miami’s favor. Credit the Heat for coming out ahead, but also realize the Spurs were right there.
Also realize declaring the Spurs dead has become an annual tradition since they won their last championship in 2007.
Forget the back-to-back sweeps of the Jazz and Clippers in the first two rounds. Going out by losing four straight in a reverse sweep and blowing the largest halftime playoff lead in franchise history in the finale says the Spurs might be lucky to slide a razor through that window crack next October.
How many times can Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford beat the bushes to drum up supplementary talent such as Gary Neal or Danny Green or Boris Diaw or Jackson to give Duncan, Ginobili and Parker one more chance? How many times can the big three avoid ankles and elbows and knees that break down before the playoffs even begin?
How do the Spurs replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle good fortune of winning Hall of Famer Duncan in the 1997 Draft lottery that has produced 15 years of stability and elite contender status for the small-market franchise?
On a night when the painful realization of what lies ahead had to run deep, Popovich chose the Novocain of praising OKC for running the table against Dallas, L.A. and San Antonio, the teams that had ruled the Western Conference for the past 13 seasons.
“I think it’s pretty cool for them,” he said.
However, when Parker was asked what went so horribly and suddenly wrong for the Spurs, he shrugged and replied, “It might be too early.”
It might already be too late.
The Spurs as contenders are done. The Grizzlies have put the nails in the top of that coffin. San Antonio may again win 50+ regular season games next season. There may be flashes of the old magic. But we know that they cannot sustain it for seven games against a quality opponent.
It’s over for the Spurs.
To the Duncan-era Spurs: Four titles, 13 straight 50-win seasons (I’m including the stupid lockout season) and a boatload of fantastic memories. OK, not really. But we got to watch Duncan (the best power forward ever), Ginobili (the best international guard ever if you’re not counting Nash, and you shouldn’t, since Canada isn’t really “international”), Parker (who perfected the celebrity relationship), Popovich (the best coach of the past 15 years), and two really fun rivalries (Spurs-Suns, Spurs-Mavs). Look, you can’t stay on top for more than a decade without getting a top-three lottery pick or having Chris Wallace trade you a top-three lottery pick. That’s just the way this league works. So hold your head up high, Spurs. Fantastic run. When players are bawling in their locker room because they finally beat you (like Nash did after Game 4), you know you accomplished something great. And you did.
End of the season … or end of an era?
It’s not just that four-time champion San Antonio lost a first-round playoff series for the first time this decade Tuesday night. What’s shocking is the manner in which it lost to a team that, let’s face it, wasn’t that good.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this series was the dreadful performance of the Spurs’ roster, other than Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. A decade of drafting 27th will do that to you. San Antonio’s supporting cast was so ineffective Dallas couldn’t guard the Spurs’ best player and it didn’t matter.
Worse yet, two of the Spurs’ three stars had physical problems this season, and one wonders how they will affect the club’s fortunes going forward. Manu Ginobili missed half the season with ankle injuries. While he’s still capable of playing at an extremely high level, he’s no longer somebody you can pencil in for 80 games.
More worrying, perhaps, are Duncan’s knee problems. With 30 points Tuesday, he showed he still can be a capable player even with the injury. The problem is, this isn’t an “injury” so much as a chronic condition, and it’s limiting his ability to be a defensive dominator. He blocked one shot a game over his final 20 contests this season, after averaging well more than two for his career, and his rebounding also has slipped.
This much is clear: Without a major infusion of talent and youth at some point in the next two years, the Spurs’ quasi-dynasty of the past decade will come crashing to an end. We’ve had it in the back of our minds for a while, but this series, and Tuesday night’s game in particular, hammered that point up to the front.
San Antonio’s elimination might signal the end of its era of dominance. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs won championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, but with a rotation made up solely of 30-something players except for the 26-year-old Parker, the future seems uncertain.
So, as much as I think the Spurs are finished, I won’t declare them dead. They were good enough to win a title this year, and although they fell short, they came much closer in 2013 than those who’d written them off previously ever would have imagined.
Besides, I wouldn’t want someone quoting my foolish words in a blog post about San Antonio’s 2014 NBA title.