San Antonio Spurs “Big Three” live up to name in season opener

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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 trés compétente 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?”

“No.”

“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,  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.

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  • td4life

    Nice try Jesse,
    but we can’t ignore several obvious points…
    A) The Heat’s big 3 had not played a single NBA game together before (not even preseason), while the Spurs have 9 seasons together in the playoffs.
    B) The Heat were playing the Celtics on the road, the Spurs were hosting the Pacers.

    The real question facing the Heat is nothing more or less than that of role-playing and roster depth. This business of “there’s only one ball” is just silly. Those guys have their eye on the prize and are smart enough to figure it out. Wade and Lebron are exceptional passers. They are also superior players on defense. Here’s the question… if you had no emotional loyalty, would you trade a healthy TP+Manu to bring a healthy Wade+James to SA for two seasons, even salaries? If you were any GM in the history of the league, the answer is simple and has 3 letters. Not only that, you would also sacrifice Timmy for Bosh for those same two years. And you’d rely on Blair, Splitter, McD, Hill, (and Bonner, actually) and the rest to flesh it out.

    Do the Heat win it all this year? No.
    Are we all glad to be rooting for OUR big 3 this season, and our 4-13. Unequivocally… but that’s no reason to act like those other guys’ talents are the problem on their team… it’s their salaries that are the problem.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Jesse Blanchard

    Was not trying to assert that the Spurs matched the Heat in talent. Miami, on paper, is a better team. But the Heat will face chemistry questions when faced against superior defenses (like Boston). The Spurs do have the other part the Heat are missing though…years of experience playing together.

    If the Spurs are to make a final push for contention, it will be on the strength of that. The Spurs as constructed cannot match a James and a Wade. But they have an answer for Bosh, and the rest will have to come through this little bit of an edge.

    That being said, I’m excited for the season but fully expect it to be Lakers v. Heat/Celtics in the Finals barring something unforeseen, but that’s why they play the games.

    Your point that the Heat have not played a single game together….that’s part of what I am saying. If they can find that cohesion, it’s over.

  • Darnell H

    guess what them 3 did their first year together? won tha title yea they had admiral 2 but he was on his way out that season…so i dont want to hear any excuses bout why the heat wont win it this year. wade and james both gotta have ball in their hands its just natural to them since its what they had 2 do previous 7 years and they dont have tha great coach k to help them like when they were on team usa.

  • junierizzle

    Nice article.

    I didn’t even realize that the BIG 3 were all healthy. They are such a well oiled machine that I didn’t notice that they all had at least 20 points.
    Its no wonder they pulled away at the end.

    But the SPURS are used to flying under the radar.
    Pretty much no one is picking them to even finish in the top 4.

    Call me a die hard but as long as MANU is healthy I will always think they can go all the way.

    We can’t really speculate on how far they go in their “last run at the title” until we see what TIAGO brings.

  • grego

    Honestly, the Heat outside of the big Miami 3, aren’t that better as a team. They just have the younger more talented stars (making them the better trio at present) that will carry them to a lot of regular season wins, if healthy.

  • Hollywood Jones

    Great article.

  • Hobson13

    I had written a bit on the Big 4’s performance last night, but my internet connection flickered just before I posted it. Wasn’t too thrilled about that, but I was thrilled about their performance. Manu looked like he was picking up where he left off last April. Overall, he didn’t shoot that great, but he sure nailed some big 3’s. Tim looked good on the offensive end. He shot the ball very well and his stat line of 23pts, 12rebs, and 4blks looks similar to what he was producing when he was 10 yrs younger.

    I may be a bit early in this proclamation, but Tony is back. He played very well and was able to get to the hoop with ease against a PG (Collison) who is very quick. What I really liked about Parker was that he had 9 assists. We have numerous scorers on this team. We need someone like Tony to get everyone involved. Mission accomplished, Tony.

    RJ was super efficient while scoring 16pts on only 6FG attempts. What was really good about RJ and Hill was that they both were aggressive and got to the FT line for 19 attempts. This was big for us and I hope this trend continues.

    From an offensive perspective, this game was perfect for the Spurs. The Big 3 each scored 20+ pts and we had our second tier players (RJ, Hill, Anderson, Blair) pitch in a combined 51 pts.

    Anyway, it was good to see the Big 3 healthy and hitting on all cylinders for the first time in several years. Hopefully this is a sign of more good things to come.

  • miggy

    I think what is lost in the 1+1+1 analogy is the +c where c is coach. Coach is vital. We are so fortunate to have Pop.

  • cruzan gold

    I agree that the Heat’s big three, if they get their chemistry together, can be more effective than the Spurs’ Big Three. But I do not think the Heat as a whole team will ever be. What answers do they have for Hill, RJ, Blair,Tiago and Bonner (Bonner, yeah I said it)? Our spurs just have more depth. This is not to say we’re the most stacked team in the league; Boston and LA are as deep and dangerous a Chilean mine. With a bit of luck, however, we can run with anyone.

  • http://www.bigbuddhastatue.com The Big Buddha

    After watching the Spurs come out of the box Wednesday on a mission, the chance of a 5th title seems more realistic than ever. It’s incredibly exciting to see “the Big 3″ healthy and in peek condition. They played so well, I forgot about my disappointment at not seeing Tiago in action.

    All in good time.

  • Jim Henderson

    The Heat have great “talent” in their big three. Unfortunately for the Heat, a highly talented core is far from all that’s required to win a title. It is a prerequisite, but it is far from sufficient. Winning a title requires basketball stars, but stars alone are far from enough. It requires very good talent 4 through 9, and even the last three to four on the bench are important, at least for total team chemistry purposes. It requires ALL of the players to compliment each other at the highest level possible, with a goal of avoiding too much skill overlap at key positions, among star players. It requires experienced & talented coaching. It requires stars possessing personal/character qualities similar to players like MJ, Manu, Kobe, Garnett, etc. – not just guys with great competitive spirit, but players that learned how to win as a team — and not “because” of their own great individual talents, but in spite of them. It almost always requires playing more than 82 games together. In fact it usually takes hundreds of games together. It requires good health. It requires luck. And it requires a whole host of intangibles too numerous to list.

    Some of us still want to cling to the idea that “talent” is all she wrote about winning an NBA title. But as the old saying goes, talent may be 95% of it, but that last 5% is damn hard to realize. And even for the mega talented Heat core, that last 5% could be a real bitch to secure anytime soon.

    In my view, I don’t care how talented a player he is, if you got a true narcissistic prima donna as your biggest star, you got a real battle on your hands to come up with that last 5%. Maybe he’s reformable, maybe Riley’s tough love is the right elixir, but at this late stage, that’s not a given as far as I’m concerned.

    This guy does good reporting, and has James pegged:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news;_ylt=AilzeHnzHO8pxc5lw66GL6C8vLYF?slug=aw-heatceltics102710

    P.S. The Spurs championships were high on a talented core, but VERY high on intangibles. We had to have that 5%, and we got it through hard work, sacrifice, luck, and even that small dose of humility at the our core of our teams was indispensable.

  • Pop-a-vich

    If I were a GM today and had to choose between the Spurs’ Big 3 and the Heat’s Big 3 for JUST THIS SEASON, I would pick the Spurs’.

    The reason? Chemistry and Experience.

    See, this is a championship-0r-bust season for the two teams. For the Spurs, obviously, they are running out of time. For the Heat, if they don’t win it all, then the Summer of LeBron is a failure.

    I think it would take a long time before the Heat develop a good chemistry, and it would be hard with 3 superstars asking for the ball. Their season opener is a living proof.

    For the Spurs, Tim, Manu, and Tony will always lead the team. Each has a different skill set and each knows what his role is. They have 3 titles together and have already developed a solid chemistry. They know what to do if put in a game 7 of the finals with 10 seconds left. And we know they will make the right play.

    DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!
    Go Spurs Go!

  • rob

    Great article Jesse.

    Here’s to hoping James, Wade and Bosh never develop into the combination that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili became.

    And hopefully those 3 dogs vying over the same piece of meat eventually tear each other up instead of learning to hunt as a pack.

  • bduran

    The construction of what is essentially a new team will certainly kill any dreams of beating 72. Well, that and the absence of Mike Miller for a good chunk of the early season. I’m sure they’ll get it together pretty quick and that the West is probably the race to see who loses to the Heat in the Finals. That’s what my head says. My heart says that Blair and Splitter will be great and that we’ll be able to play with anybody.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Sorry, but I have to STRONGLY disagree about the Heat, based on Tuesday night. They had quite a lot going against them that evening:

    1) Miami’s three key players had only played together for 3 minutes of the first preseason game. Boston’s four key players, by contrast, have been together as a unit for over three years and played together in a seven-game NBA Finals series just four months ago.

    2) Miami was tight, really tight, especially in the first half, which is understandable given the enormous scrutiny of their first game together.

    3) Miami lost a key part of their team, Mike Miller, just before the opener. His ability to space the floor was a big part of their plans and they haven’t had time to adjust.

    4) Miami was also missing their starting PG, Mario Chalmers, who was out with a sprained ankle.

    5) Chris Bosh was faced with a very tough matchup against a rejuvenated Hall of Famer, Kevin Garnett, who has always given him trouble. Not surprisingly, he played very poorly as a result.

    6) Dwayne Wade had a terrible game, from which he has already bounced back.

    7) Let’s face it, VERY few teams in history–if any–have ever been expected to win a season-opener on the road against an defending conference champion with a healthy and mostly intact roster.

    Even against all of that, Miami came back from a 9-point 1st quarter and a 15-point deficit at halftime, against the defending Eastern Conference champions, on the road, and cut the lead to 3 within the last 1:10 of the game. They also, by the way, held Boston to 88 points and actually had fewer turnovers.

    I love me some San Antonio Spurs, I do. But the Heat are going to be just fine, especially if they keep playing that kind of defense.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Oh, and one more thing. John Wooden would’ve probably pointed out that the correct formula is this one:

    1+1+1+1+1 > 1,1,1,1,1

    But I don’t mean to be critical, Jesse. I thought this was a very nice post and I appreciate your larger points about chemistry and that “because of injuries, it’s been easy to forget just how good these three actually are together.”

  • B.D.

    Chris Bosh is a better player than Joakim Noah, but I think the Miami Heat would be a better team with a Wade-James-Noah trio.

    Just an example.

  • Bankshot21

    Great point B.D….to add to that you clearly must mean a Rodmanesque player to go with the Jordan (Wade) and Pippen (LeBron) tandem. But as long as Bosh can tweak his game to focus more on defense, They’ll be fine.

  • The Beat Counselor

    Nice post. It seems like whenever anyone talks about the ‘new big three’ they always refer to the old big three as Garnett, Pierce and Allen. They RARELY mention 21, 20 & 9 (the only time I heard anyone on tv refer to our big 3 in comparison was the Spurs Team Preview on NBA TV).

    We’re the Rodney Dangerfields of basketball here.

    Anyway, the Heat will be fine but they aren’t a complete team yet so they won’t be able to beat the Lakers this year.

    But if they do, more power to them. As long as the Lakers lose, I’m happy.

    @Jim Henderson

    Nice post, however I wouldn’t say “small dose of humility” to describe our big three (although I’ve noticed a small dose of humility in your recent posts…nice…balances things out). It is RIDICULOUS how humble TD and Manu are. It’s amazing that such humble athletes were able to reach the grand prize multiple times. Jordan, Kobe and Shaq be damned. It’s one of the main reasons I’m a Spurs fan.

  • stephen

    I think continually underestimating the Big Three is starting to piss them off a little bit. That’s probably a good thing. There’s a reason why TP and Manu have accomplished so much more than Dwayne and LB, and it isn’t hype or television endorsements for any corporation with a check in their hand. I believe it’s passion and focus. Go Spurs Go!!!

  • Jim Henderson

    Tim in Surrey
    October 29th, 2010 at 5:26 am

    “They had quite a lot going against them that evening:”

    Actually those points are mainly excuses. Even the valid one’s are likely to persist to a meaningful extent throughout this year, and maybe beyond (e.g., points #1, #5…).

    “3) Miami lost a key part of their team, Mike Miller, just before the opener. His ability to space the floor…”

    Actually, Boston’s “D” simply smothered the 3-point shooters in that opening game. For example, James Jones played just as well in game two against the Sixer’s if not better than an average performance of Mike Miller would have done (20 pts, 6 for 9 from three).

    “4) Miami was also missing their starting PG, Mario Chalmers,….”

    Arroyo is just as good as Chalmers.

    “…. against a defending conference champion with a healthy and mostly intact roster.”

    Let’s not forget about Perkins & West. Those are two key missing parts. And Boston did not play particularly well in that game. Should have went down in the low-post much more often to Oneal, Oneal, & Garnett. Miami accelerated a comeback attempt when Pierce was out of the game after James ran him over on a “no call”.

    “But the Heat are going to be just fine, especially if they keep playing that kind of defense.”

    Yeah, they’ll be “fine”, and may end up winning close to 60 games, but they’re not going to win 69+, and they’re not going to win a title this year. I’ve already stated the reasons for that many times.

    The Beat Counselor
    October 29th, 2010 at 8:16 am

    “Nice post, however I wouldn’t say “small dose of humility” to describe our big three…”

    What I mean by that is that our core guys have plenty of ego, confidence, pride, etc., but they don’t think of themselves as larger than life, as some stars I won’t mention around the league obviously do. But you’re right, our big three are probably the most self-effacing stars of this generation.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran
    October 29th, 2010 at 5:24 am

    “I’m sure they’ll get it together pretty quick and that the West is probably the race to see who loses to the Heat in the Finals. That’s what my head says. My heart says that Blair and Splitter will be great and that we’ll be able to play with anybody.”

    But the Heat aren’t even going to make the finals. It’s Boston or Orlando against LA in the finals. The winner is too close to call.

  • Bankshot21

    I find it utterly hilarious how an obvious unforeseeable outcome is so visible for some of you, Jim in particular, with only a couple of games played. Laugh Out Loud.

  • bduran

    I just woke up from nap. I had a dream in which a beaver fought a mongoose over a nut while an eagle circled to claimed the victor. Just as the eagle stooped, I woke up.

    The meaning of this dream is clear. The Heat will win 61 games and earn the top seed in the east. Then, the Heat will go on to win the East in 4, 4, and 6 games. Unfortunately, I woke up before I could find out who would win the Finals, so there is still a little bit of mystery left in the postseason.

  • Jim Henderson

    Bankshot21
    October 29th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    “I find it utterly hilarious how an obvious unforeseeable outcome is so visible for some of you, Jim in particular, with only a couple of games played. Laugh Out Loud.”

    I think it’s hilarious that people really think that the Heat, a team that’s now played just TWO games together, has a legitimate shot at 69+ wins and a title in their first year. Amazing!

  • Bduran

    How many games do you think they will have played together by the end of the season? I predict 82. You can take that to the bank.

  • Flavor

    Boston’s big three did it in their first year together.

  • J2

    Spurs looked great on offense. The defense still has some improvement needed if they are going to contend for a championship.

    J2

  • rob

    Tim in Surrey

    “5) Chris Bosh was faced with a very tough matchup against a rejuvenated Hall of Famer, Kevin Garnett, who has always given him trouble. Not surprisingly, he played very poorly as a result.”

    For the most part that’s been Bosh’s whole career thus far. Looks like a perineal all-star against sub par talent. Plays like an average stiff against top talent.

  • ribanez1

    With all due respect to fans of the Spurs, past and present, and I am a Spurs fan. Comparisons between the Spurs big three and Miami’s trio are wasteful and leads to delusional comments. The Spurs 3 has a supporting cast superior to that of their miami counterparts. And it is the supporting cast that may be the difference should they meet in a seven game series. Ginobili and Duncan are declining. Miami’s trio has yet to peak. This type of analysis makes us, the spurs fan, appear uninformed and out of touch. Enjoy the Spurs for what they are and for what they were, for the class they have consistently displayed win or lose. In reality, to win the 5th title a lot things have to go right for our Spurs and lot of things must go wrong for the more talented teams.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com/2010/09/02/death-of-tradition anonymous

    I would like to take issue with the statement, definitely the most talented 3/5 in the NBA. refering to Miami. Talent is more than how high or fast they are.