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Renaissance in San Antonio

Posted By Steven Keys On Jun 6 2013 @ 7:24 pm In San Antonio Spurs | No Comments

“Renaissance: noun; a renewal of life, vigor, interest, etc.; rebirth, revival (Dictionary.com).”

Make no mistake about it, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t in the 2013 NBA Finals (Miami / Th / 9PM! / ABC) because they’re young at heart or sippin’ some kinda’ youth serum.

This ain‘t no NBA version of “Cocoon.”

Spurs are back on the big stage because they’re healthy again AND they’re smart.

You read right, they’re smart. ‘Smart’ ain’t a word that gets tossed into the sport-soup too often. Don’t taste it much in the political smorgasbord, either, for that matter.

Brains gets a bad rap, always has. Showing the folks too much wisdom or free thought was liable to get you put in chains (Galileo) or rile-up the pitch-fork crowd.

Another word for what’s been spinning the Spurs this post-season: experience, in particular, playoff experience. And when you get down to the nitty-gritty, what’s experience really but age-acquired smarts?

Four men with this San Antonio club have reached the promised land more times than Moses, Ramses II and Wilt Chamberlain combined (2): Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili, thrice, Tim Duncan & Coach Gregg Popovich winning their first of four rings together way back when Clinton / Gore were still occupying the White House (‘99).

And what makes this Texas renaissance so notable? Like most rebirths, it’s unexpected.

This time last year SA and their championship-caliber appeared to be in early renaissance and shooting straight for title #5, up 2-0 on OKC in the West final after a terrific regular season. But that heavy caliber quickly turned into a light load, losing four straight to the upstart Thunder who proved no match for eventual champion Miami (4-1).

Was there anyone outside Alamo country who seriously believed this Spurs bunch would be back in a Finals after that Great El-foldo? Not bloody likely.

Though, it didn’t hurt their chances when West final foe Memphis suddenly got stage fright, that the Lakers at get-go were beset with injuries, that Mr. Cuban has grown bored with b-ball, that the Clippers youthful angst, not as needy of guidance as say, Justin ‘You’re not my boss!’ Bieber, could use veteran infusion, and that OKC was short its do-(too much of)-everything man, Russ Westbrook.

And don’t forget about all that talent down Texas way. Duncan, Parker and team are playing as well as they’ve played in ten years, and while the Grizzlies may’ve forgotten to grab hold of that brass ring (it won’t fall in your lap), they were a formidable opponent most the way (my darkhorse) and the Spurs sweep was quite impressive. Familiarity with success won’t alone get you into the Finals.

Spurs’ opponents, Miami Heat, aren’t exactly lacking in basketball smarts, themselves. No sir-ee, Bob. They are wise well within their years with Finals experience and rings to prove the point. It’s just that, how should I put this, the Heat are more brawn than brains.

Sometimes that’s just the ticket.

Miami center Chris Andersen, now, he’s bird of a different feather. “Birdman” is a little slow on the up-take. The body-art is eye-catching and when he plays the numbers are contributory (7P / 4R – PS), but the judgment he displays is sometimes painful to watch.

Andersen’s belly-bash of Pacers’ Hansbrough in G5 was childish, thought there’s a lot of that going around. The follow-up shove was escalatory, got Chris suspended, helped Heat lose G6, might’ve cost ‘em the series and is exactly what leadership should nip in the bud. MIA best bring their ‘ego pruning shears’ to these Finals, they might come in handy.

When you get to this stage of the game numbers are largely inconsequential. Staffs will delve into stats to set the match-ups, saberhead scribes will calculate into infinity but as both squads are terribly talented, generally healthy and their performance, so far, true to form, this one too, like most championships, will turn on emotions & intangibles.

The Popovich / Duncan Spurs, like Pats, Yanks and old Habs, are one of those teams that emits an aura (it ain’t arrogance if you back it up). You always figure these teams are gonna’ win. They don‘t, of course, except the Spurs, who’re 4-0 in title tussles.

Heat have sipped champagne themselves, of recent vintage (‘12). Advantage Miami?

Broad Strokes

1) Enforcement

Rob Horry was Spurs ‘top cop’ back in ‘07 when they last hoisted O‘Brien. They’ll need someone (Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner & Aron Baynes) with those same ‘speaking skills’ (sans the cheap-shots (Nash)) to set-the-tone against these Beasts of the East . While not your typical enforcer, Chris Bosh must be more aggressive this round, especially on the boards, while Chris-the-colorful must work more containment…of his emotions.

2) War Horses

Dwyane Wade is not as old a steed (9) as say, Duncan (15) or teamers Howard (18) and Allen (16), but you wouldn’t know it from his down-time and the battle scars on the knees. If DW can get more mileage out of his lucky-charm and stay healthy all series, Heat’ll rock.

3) Swan Song

Though loaded to the teeth with class & smarts, Spurs’ stars are no spring chickens. The R&R they got in quickly dispatching Memphis is just what the doctor ordered and could tip the scale in their favor, especially given the fact Miami lost that sense of invincibility in their knock-down, drag-out battle with Indiana. Cock a’ doodle-do!

4) Guru Gauge

Popovich had a Lombardi thing going, or, as “Doug Heffernan” might say, “perfect-she-ooooon,” until he and his crew got hog-tied by the Thunder (‘12 WCF). As for Erik ‘I’m the Coach’ Spoelstra, he’s now a Finals regular (‘11-13) on his way to becoming NBA’s new Swami in South Beach. Just make sure the guys get to bed early, Erik, they need it.

5) Pressure Point

Spurs legacy is already cemented and Wade is a HOF lock, but Spoelstra, Chris Bosh & LeBron James are all at a crossroads. If James can put his team over the top and go back-to-back, some will try fitting him with regalia befitting the ‘Greatest All-Time.’ But if His Majesty & Court come up short because LeBron reverts to old, bad habits (post high, pump 3s), the Chamberlain comparison will begin in earnest and Erik will be looking over his shoulder.

6) Style

Like Botticelli and Jackson Pollock, these NBA Finals are a contrast in styles: Heat thrive off the fast-break, splashing their canvas with free-flowing finesse; the Spurs, measuring their strokes with a calculated & crafted half-court game. Both squads are readily adaptable to either style, one reason why they’re on the big stage in June.

Who Wins?

Heat have matured since Dirk Nowitzki took ‘em to school in the 2011 Finals. LeBron made up for it in ‘12, taking a page outta‘ Dirk’s book by taking his game inside.

Miami is the safe pick of most prognosticators. Heat frontline is not as long-in-the-tooth (9Y) as SA’s (12), they’re the defending champs, showcase NBA’s reigning MVP, will have home-court advantage and sport a nifty 27G win-streak in ‘13 to boost confidence.

So, I’m siding with San Antonio, in six.

I like the Spurs know-how, their aura, their experience (four remain from SA’s last Finals (07): Bonner, Parker, Duncan & Ginobili, 4-0 sweep of Cavaliers & LRJ), they get coaching edge, their extended rest is cherry while Heat went long (IND). And even when these hombres are off, they’re on, meaning, when they miss they don’t miss by much.

What tips scale Spurs’ way is the Oklahoma City Thunder, or to put this way, they‘re not OKC. The gold standard in greatness is measured in rings but carat count is weighted in competition. The Heat are still a question mark, losing to the Mavericks in six (’11) and overwhelming a “not ready for prime-time“ Thunder squad in last season’s finale (4-1).

Is 2007 a factor? Not in the least. Spurs know that LeBron is in a different place, team-wise and mentally. He may reflect back on his Forest City days with a slight pang of melancholy, but this will pass come tip-off, a start so late out East (9PM) I may not make it to the final buzzer. Bad play, ABC.

The Spurs haven’t reached high renaissance yet. That comes if and when they hoist Mr. O’Brien. To do so in this ‘13 Finals against the heavily favored Heat would be Popovich & friends’ crowning achievement, maybe their greatest work.

San Anton’s masterpiece is close to completion. It’d be a shame to leave it unfinished.

Steven Keys

Nothing But Net

Photo Credit: Gregg Popovich / 12-22-10 / Zereshk / wc.cc

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