San Antonio Spurs “Big Three” live up to name in season opener
A night after the most ballyhooed Big Three in NBA history made their historical debut, an 80-88 loss to the Boston Celtics, the league’s most accomplished Big Three quietly opened their season in San Antonio.
For the first time in what feels like ages, a healthy Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker shared the floor for an opening tip as the San Antonio Spurs ran past the Indiana Pacers in a 122-109 victory.
Lost beneath the fold (an old newspaper term attached to stories whose headlines are less enticing, for those of you who still read them), the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker scored more than 20 points apiece while making significant contributions in other areas of the game. A stark contrast to the Miami Heat’s “atrocious” debut, in which LeBron James was the only player to reach double figures.
And therein lies an interesting point. The San Antonio Spurs, in their relative anonymity, are the understated answer to every question facing the Miami Heat this season.
Chemistry? Defined roles? Redundant skill sets? That the Miami Heat own the most talented 3/5 of a starting lineup in the NBA is without question. How each of their three core players fit in together is rightfully still debatable. Because putting together three of the best players in the NBA does not necessarily constitute a Big Three.
Each individual has to add and build upon each other in a way that the sum is greater than its parts. Or, to put into a simple mathematical formula:
1+1+1 > 1, 1, 1
Against Boston, the Miami Heat offense devolved into into a series of stagnant LeBron James pick-and-rolls with the other members of the team standing around, waiting for James to do something with the ball — a strategy which derailed the Heat just as easily as it doomed Cleveland against Boston. Over at Yahoo! Sports, Ben Collins described the scene:
At halftime, I was asked by an elevator attendant how the Heat were playing. He had heard the score and deciphered from grumblings of the last batch of riders that the Heat may not have appeared trÃ©s compÃ©tente out of the gate.
“How do they look?”
“Well,” I said. I was trying to find something very relatable, something everyone had seen before. “Have you ever seen three stray dogs in a parking lot fighting over a piece of meat?”
“Me neither. They look really bad.”
Extending the metaphor, if the Spurs are dogs (and not in the way that head coach Gregg Popovich famously called his team out last season), they are the type that hunt as a pack.
Each of the Spurs’ Big Three offer enough variance in their skill sets that, at worst, no player impedes the play of the other and at best, each takes the others’ game to new heights.
Manu Ginobili is the do-it-all shooting guard whose playmaking ability allows for Tony Parker to indulge in his scoring ambitions from the point guard position. Parker is the penetrating force and full court blur that initially breaks down the defense and allows Ginobili and Tim Duncan the easy looks they would not get otherwise.
And Duncan, well, Tim Duncan is the stabilizing force that legitimizes everything. The sturdy pick that frees Parker in his forays to the rim, the defensive blanket covering up for the calculated defensive gambles that make Ginobili so special, and the inside presence that balances the floor for everyone.
This is not to put the Spurs on the same level as the Miami Heat just yet. Talent-wise, there was a time when Duncan was the force LeBron James currently is — if not better. And unbiasedly, in terms of this season most general managers would still choose Duncan over Bosh. But Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are not Wade and James, and Duncan isn’t necessarily that guy anymore either.
But they’re not far off.
Last season Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili proved they were still capable of quasi-peak production over limited stretches. If the early returns are any indication, Tony Parker is still in his prime. Because of injuries, it’s been easy to forget just how good these three actually are together.
While their talents might not add up individually to their Miami counterparts,Â it might not be a case of the Spurs vs. James, Wade, and Bosh, but rather San Antonio against James. Or Wade. Or Bosh — depending on whose turn it is on any given offensive possession.
The evolution of the Miami Heat, and ultimately their championship viability, depends on their ability to incorporate addition signs. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have long since moved passed simple equations with doctorates in calculus and chemistry.
Now if they can just make their way to anatomy and health class.