For a stretch of 20 games, 10 of those in the playoffs, no team has played a more pure, more beautiful brand of basketball in recent years than San Antonio.
It was Hall of Fame talent being selfless — Tony Parker would get in the lane and score or kick to the corner three, Tim Duncan would take whatever the defense gave him, a 18-foot jumper or a jump hook over the left shoulder in the post. Manu Ginobili carved teams up, guys filled their roles, the ball moved in a way that would make Norman Dale from Hoosiers proud.
But in the Western Conference finals, youth was served.
The Spurs didn’t lose because they were old. But the Thunder won because they started playing well enough as a team and because they used they youth and athleticism cut off Parker’s penetration and blow up that beautiful Spurs offense. And there was nothing Gregg Popovich or anyone could do about it.
It’s hard because this year felt like the Spurs last run at it. It felt like the true end of the era.
They may bring everyone back, but that will not be enough anymore. Health alone will not be enough. The Spurs needed everything to go just right to have a shot this season — and they got it. The breaks went their way. Last year it was clear how much they missed Ginobili, this year he was there. Parker was healthy and playing maybe the best ball of his career. Duncan was moving like it was 10 years ago. Young role players like Kawhi Leonard stepped up. Stephen Jackson was nailing threes.
And it wasn’t enough. The obstacle was too big — OKC was making San Antonio work hard for good looks while seemingly getting the shots they wanted at will off things like a beautiful pin-down play.
And the Thunder are not going anywhere for years. Plus there’s the up-and-coming Clippers and other rising young teams in the West.
These Spurs will not admit this was their last best shot, but they did admit after starting this series up 2-0 they could taste ring No. 5. They got close.
But it was not enough. And it may be as close as they ever get again. Tim Duncan has said if he returns it will only be for a couple years (as a Spur, nowhere else). It’s hard to see their core being this healthy, this rested and this good again after the grind of an 82-game season.
The Spurs gave us something special to watch this postseason. They were magical. And hopefully that is how we remember them.
Because time is not on their side if they want to do this again.