Cutting through the smoke and mirrors, the Spurs are who they are
There is a magician in our midst and he will reveal himself in Memphis tonight. As magical as the NBA playoffs are, and we’ve seen our fair share of magical moments thus far, a seven game series is no place for illusions or parlor tricks; substance rises to the top.
In the Memphis/San Antonio series, one wonders which coach is the smoke and mirrors practitioner? Is it Gregg Popovich, tweaking and squeezing an unrealistic 61 wins out of what’s left of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili , while only surrounding them with late first round picks and players of second round value? Or is it Lionel Hollins, who for the moment has in fact made Tony Parker disappear? Where you stand on the question likely has a large say in what you think the San Antonio Spurs’ next move should be.
Understand though, the audience has the luxury of overreacting to rabbits being pulled out of hats. The head coach, on the other hand, is far too busy figuring out the mechanics of the deception. Either the San Antonio Spurs are the 61-win team their record indicates, or they were never good enough to win a fifth NBA championship in the first place. Popovich could make all the substitutions in the world and it would not change who the Spurs are at core.
Graydon Gordian has a theory on the Spurs: The Spurs, under Duncan and Popovich, beat the teams they are suppose to beat and are destroyed by those that are better than them. There are no smoke and mirrors.
This can be attributed in part to the words of Jacob Riis that adorns the locker room hallway. The metaphor for pounding the rock means, in part, to stay the course. Three games is not a series. At this point in the season the Spurs are who they are and they have already invested 85 swings of the hammer. Down 2-1 there is no magic answer; adjustments, like the difference in scoring margin between these two teams, will be subtle.
Because magicians do not get NBA championship rings, stonecutters do. A magical moment in the playoffs might swing a game, but not a series. Overreacting to the sleight of hand, however, could cost you.
The last time an eighth seed upset a one seed the Dallas Mavericks attempted a preemptive strike, removing Erik Dampier from the starting lineup in an attempt to keep pace with the fast tempo Golden State Warriors. On Saturday everything clicked perfectly for a cartilage deficient Brandon Roy, who led the Portland Trailblazers to an improbable comeback to even the series against the Dallas Mavericks. What should Dallas have learned?
Trends dictate that Roy’s knees are good for a once-a-month throwback performance. The odds say he will not be as big a factor the rest of the series unless Dallas makes him one by spending too much attention to a player whose minutes are more likely to be single digits than 30 minutes. Either Roy’s knees are suddenly healed or that moment will not recreate itself. Overreacting to Roy’s moment with excessive traps or lineup changes would be detrimental to the Mavericks.
The San Antonio Spurs enter Game 4 down 1-2 with an opportunity to even the series, which would leave them no better no worse than the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks, the second and third seeds respectively. The margin of victory for the Memphis Grizzlies has been six points, a three-pointer from Shane Battier and a highly improbable one from Zach Randolph. Coin flips.
And yet the sleight of hand would have you believe the outcomes have been far, far worse. The narrative is the San Antonio Spurs are getting destroyed on the inside, and to a point there is something to that. But that’s just the sexy story; the impact is far more muted than one would believe.
After being questionable all season long the Spurs defense has surprisingly held up in all but the fourth quarter of Game 1. San Antonio has outrebounded Memphis, taking away one of the team’s constant strengths. And while Randolph and Gasol have proven problematic, their impact has not been insurmountable.
So stare at the curvy blonde assistant if you must, but you’ll miss the magician reaching into the secret compartment in his sleeve. The deception starts when you lose focus on what is really going on. The Spurs’ best players are simply underperforming; Memphis is seeing above average production from players like Mike Conley. The truth is plain to see.
Would Tiago Splitter help? I’m not opposed to the substitution, but let’s face it, he’s not the Spurs’ cure all. Lionel Hollins has simply taken away the Spurs’ 3-point shooters and bottled the lane, making Tony Parker all but disappear. The Spurs offense is broken. Take away everything else, and it comes down to the Spurs’ best players simply playing better. There is no great mystery here. The Spurs are a few possessions of better play away from a 3-0 series. And, of course, if the scales tilted the other way, the Spurs could easily be down 0-3.
No magic in the world is going to change that. Even if he does come from Brazil.