After Game 3, I made the statement that I didn’t believe that the Spurs were truly the no-doubt better team that others had said they were after they took a commanding 3-0 series lead. My reasoning was simple: the last two games were overtime games, which means either team could have easily won them and the Grizzlies missed a lot more free throws than normal, which suggested they not only could have, but possibly should have won at least one of those games, if not both of them.
Well, now I’m here to say: I believe.
The San Antonio Spurs were the better team. They adapted, adjusted, and imposed their will on that series. While the Grizzlies had to fight tooth and nail for every single basket in Game 4, the Spurs got wide open layups and easy baskets seemingly whenever they chose to. They did something that no other team had come close to this postseason against Memphis by completely owning the paint on both sides of the court.
Tony Parker was electric. Tim Duncan was sublime. Gregg Popovich was the quasi-evil, caustic genius that we all know and…tolerate. The role players played their roles. The machine ran smoothly. The computer program had no bugs to work out.
Popovich’s comments after the series were interesting from a Grizz fan’s perspective.
He made it pretty clear that, although this was a sweep, it was not an easy series — especially through the last three games. I wish I could hang my hat on the fact that I wasn’t completely off-base with my previous assertion, but the fact is I’m more inclined to side with Spurs’ media and fans after what I saw in the final game.
I don’t think the Spurs are more talented or even necessarily better coached (although Pops gets my hands-down vote of being the best coach in the NBA). As I tweeted earlier this week, the Spurs are more experienced, they execute plays almost flawlessly, and their two best players have a comfort level with each other that is unmatched. While watching Parker and Duncan improvise their way through multiple plays that resulted in baskets, I hoped that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol would develop that level of chemistry going forward.
The Spurs’ game plan was simple, but effective: Take away the paint. That meant doubling Zach Randolph and Gasol whenever they got the ball in the post, and pack the lane whenever Conley tried to drive to the rim. They were able to get away with that because, outside of Quincy Pondexter, nobody on Memphis’s roster was able to consistently hit perimeter shots. That is a skillset that will (once again) have to be addressed this off-season — but that’s a discussion for another post.
Outside shooting and the experience of having been there before — that’s where the Spurs truly outdid the Grizzlies in this series. The fun fact that got passed around before and during the series was that no NBA team had ever advanced to the NBA Finals in their first trip to the Conference Finals. After what happened to Memphis, I can see why that is the case. Game 1 was a perfect example of how the bright lights of the big stage can affect a team. Every team has to go through that though.
The Miami Heat with their vaunted Big Three didn’t win it all in their first trip to the Finals. Michael Jordan’s Bulls were stymied again and again in the playoffs by Eastern Conference foes before reaching the mountain top. Shaq experienced his team getting swept his first three years of making the playoffs. Tim Duncan got booted his first season by the Utah Jazz in a 4-1 thrashing in the conference semifinals, won his first title the next year, and then suffered a first-round loss to Phoenix (3-1) and consecutive drubbings to the Lakers (4-0, 4-1) before winning his second title in 2003. Safe to say — it is tough to even make the conference finals, much less make the Finals or win a championship.
All of this means that, while the Grizzlies did indeed get swept, they still had a very successful season and should look forward to what the next few years have in store for them. Eventually, the Spurs’ window will close (although we’ve been saying that for forever seemingly). Then, provided both franchises make solid off-season moves and nothing catastrophic occurs, it should be the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Warriors battling it out for supremacy of the West. At the risk of stealing the Brooklyn Dodgers’ old mantra, next year could very well be their year. For now, let’s enjoy how special this year was and feel pride in what our team was able to accomplish.