In the glorious reworking of the legend of the San Antonio Spurs, the Bay Area’s small piece of San Antonio’s glee is in conflict.
On the one hand, the Spurs have gone fo’-six-fo’ to get to the NBA Finals, a seemingly impressive feat that has actually been done three times in the last eight years, including last year by the Spurs themselves. They have reminded the nitwits who dismissed them as boring in the middle of the last decade that basketball is a multiplatformed expression of art, and not everything needs to be posterized for it to attain validity.
On the other, they are proudly and defiantly non-inclusive and old school at a time when both and old and school are uncool. They do what they do because they’ve done it for years, and are assiduously disinterested in your approval or disapproval. Their collective attitude is, “We do this for us. You’re just guests.”
That, however, is your issue, to be taken up with your therapist at a happy hour to be determined.
The interesting part of the Spurs’ latest climb, though, is not how they ”play basketball the way it’s supposed to be played.” They play it in a way that works for them because of their extraordinary stability.
Nor is it their two series sweeps, over the laughably desiccated Los Angeles Lakers and the game but incomplete Memphis Grizzlies. Playoffs are matchups, and Spurs had all the best of those in both series.
No, it is the six-gamer against the Golden State Warriors that intrigues us, because the Warriors did things, at least for awhile, that the Spurs struggled to counter. A lot of it was predicated on three-point shooting and hurrying up and down the floor in an ongoing ode to transition, but more than one instant analyst called what the Warriors do “the basketball of the future.”
It isn’t, of course. The Spurs have shown us all that the basketball of the future is a constantly changing thing, and sometimes going backward is actually going forward. It is what works best for one’s personnel that matters most, and always has.
The Warriors, though, had things that the Spurs had to scramble to deal with, and Golden State fans will go into training camp shrieking that with a fully assembled David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry, they could have been the Spurs, only playing the role of hyperamped precocious waif.
In short, while the rest of the nation tries to navigate the vagaries of an Indiana-Miami series in which the Pacers blew game 1, impressed in Game 2, and were harshly educated in Game 3, the boring-or-brilliant argument about the Spurs is being placed in abeyance. They have at least five days of belated appreciation to endure before their season resumes.
Except in Oakland and its surrounding environs, where the Warriors and their most devoted customers are trying to decide whether to revel in San Antonio’s resurgence and their own role in testing the Spurs, on resenting their own physical fragilities and grousing jealously, “That could have been us!”
Of course, there is a flaw in this thinking, because there is no way of knowing what the Warriors could have done against Memphis in the conference final. The Grizzlies were a tough meal for the Warriors to digest in the regular season, and there is no reason to think it would have dramatically easier or different. Memphis lost to San Antonio in part for the same reason the Warriors did – institutional memory works as well in athletics as it does in real life.
The Warriors may have been doomed either way. Or not. We don’t know what might have been, but we do know what is. But they can take pride not in the what-if but in the what-was. They made San Antonio work harder than either the Lakers or Grizzlies. It doesn’t go any further than that, of course, because San Antonio is still better, in depth, in concept, in know-how, in sheer dogged cussedness.
Thus the nation of Golden State can either take pride in what its team did do against one of the sport’s most enduring champions, or it can complain about what it could have done if only. The difference is that “if only” is really just empty calories, unsatisfying at first and with a miserable aftertaste.