Programming note: Spurs-Warriors coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area, and streaming live right here.
OAKLAND – It’s here at last, the showdown in Oaktown, the reigning champion Warriors, with the best record in the NBA, defending their turf from the perennially contending Spurs, the only team worthy of breathing the same rarified air.
On merit, they are very much alike. Both have exquisite rosters, superbly coached – the Warriors by Steve Kerr, the Spurs by Gregg Popovich – with championship pedigree.
Where they diverge is personality. The Warriors have one, in rainbow colors.
“That’s a part of who we are,” Draymond Green says. “That’s a part of how we play. I think that’s the key to our success.”
The Warriors are 11-year-old boys giggling as they trample opponents across the countryside. They whistle while they work. They also sing and dance and joke and play. They’re often seen laughing out loud, with encouragement from the coaching staff led by Steve Kerr.
“Pop is extremely influenced by his military background,” says Kerr, who stole more than a few ideas in four seasons as a Spur under Popovich. “He brings a great sense of humor, obviously, and he brings presence and respect. But he also brings order.
“With our group, I’m probably a lot looser. I like the music during practice. I like our guys to come down . . . and I’d rather not call a play. With our personnel, that makes sense. I’m doing what I think makes sense for us and our personalities and Pop is doing what he does that’s best for his group.”
With Kerr encouraging equal parts joy and labor, the Warriors embrace their swag, wearing it as a badge. They are sports eye candy, with rock-star appeal. They make basketball sexy.
The Warriors are somewhat like Apple, innovative and daring and with a splash more humor, except the cutting edge on which they live is that of basketball.
The Spurs are much more the fine Swiss watch, sacrificing flash for precision and impeccable craftsmanship since the Eisenhower administration. They’re establishment, sober as a carton of milk. Swag is a lamp. And Apple is a fruit.
You will never, ever, see a bunch of San Antonio Spurs leaping off the bench sprinting and pointing and gesturing because one of their teammates did something spectacular. The Spurs don’t do animated, at least not in public.
They do winning. That’s enough, because, as they would remind us, that’s the object of the game. These guys, who have accomplished so much, over so many years, don’t excite. They tranquilize – unless you comprehend the finer points of the game.
“When I was a kid, I used to think the Spurs were a little more on the boring side to watch,” Green says. “And, man, as my knowledge of basketball started to grow they became more and more exciting to watch.”
These fabulous teams have created these identities because each follows its leaders: Steph Curry and Kerr for the Warriors, Tim Duncan and Popovich for the Spurs.
Curry is a father of two who shares wild-eyed selfies in which he wears a hoodie. His dazzling pregame routine is an exhibition worth its own price of admission. Curry shakes and shimmies and shoots from the hip, partly because he can and partly because he knows this lifts his team and captivates any audience, home or away.
Duncan is a human Toyota 4-Runner, gray in color. His nickname, the Big Fundamental, coined by Shaquille O’Neal, is apt. Duncan’s game is as functional and practical as a stapler. Not just any stapler, though, but the best darned stapler on the market. It’s gray, too, but it never jams.
San Antonio has been to the playoffs in 25 of the past 26 seasons. The Spurs in that span have won five championships and made 10 trips to the Western Conference Finals. They are to the NBA what Tiffany is to fine jewelry, what Levi’s is to jeans.
The Spurs are style, timeless and reliable and always magnificent. Other teams would embrace their failures.
The Warriors, for now, are high fashion seeking the consistency required of style.
And yet both teams have the same core principles and hope to apply them Monday night.
“It’s like playing yourself, in a way,” Popovich says. “Both teams are interested in moving the ball. We’re two good offensive teams and two good defensive teams. Unselfish people. Who’s going to play better for the 48 minutes on a given night? Who’s going have fewer turnovers? Who’s going to shoot more uncontested shots? Who’s going to rebound the basketball?”
We’re only hours away from discovering which team can put its stamp on the game. There is no question that those stamps don’t look much alike.