Defending my change of heart
When the dust settled after Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and the Spurs’ season had ended, a season that for at least a couple of weeks looked like it would be the cherry on top of the Duncan Dynasty sundae, I wanted the Spurs to go back. Back to the years of the Twin Towers. Back to the suffocating defense and inside-out offense. Back to the 92-87 final scores. This new Spurs style in which the silver and black beat teams by out executing them offensively and employing a bend-but-don’t-break-too-often defense had to go.
The Spurs came close last season, but the beauty of relying on your defense is that it’s much easier to battle through an off-day. You can power through a bad day defensively with effort and grit. It’s much harder to hustle your way through a bad or, worse yet, tentative shooting night. This was part of my thinking at the time. Back to what we’ve seen work. Back to the defense.
I’ve since changed my mind.
I loved last season, Games 3-6 of the WCF aside. That Spurs team was beautiful and fun to watch, and we got to see it a lot, not just during the playoffs when a national audience caught on. It hit its peak with a behind-the-back pass in Game 2 of the Conference Finals when Manu Ginobili found Tony Parker in transition for a corner 3. It all went downhill from there, but that’s beside the point. That play was everything that was good about this team.
And they won a lot of games while they were at it. I know some will (justifiably) argue that they didn’t win the ones they needed to, but right now I don’t care. They won a lot of games the last couple of seasons while playing an aesthetically pleasing style of basketball. Some might call it sexy.
As I’ve wrestled with this change of heart, I’ve wondered if it’s enough to simply enjoy watching a team play. The players, coaches and front office should want to win at all costs, with any style of play. To them, winning is all that matters. It’s their job. For me as a viewer? I want to be entertained. Fans and audience members deserve to see a performance. That’s why people tune in to telecasts or go to games in the evenings, in their time after work or school. This is entertainment.
We’re well aware that the Spurs primary hole is a defensive big man to make up for what Tim Duncan has lost with age. Unfortunately, there are only so many defensive bigs in the league. Actually, there are so few defensive bigs. The defensive big man — not the type labeled as such because he’s incredibly raw offensively — but those who simply excel at defense, are scarce and generally hard to find. The Spurs can’t simply sign one for the veteran’s minimum or convince any team to trade theirs to San Antonio. There’s no guarantee the Spurs will find one between now and when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich are gone. So what do you do?
It’s hard to argue with reinforcing the advantages you do have. The Spurs boast a beautifully elite offense and spent the summer bringing back players who should be better pieces in it than last season (Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Patty Mills) and another who should fit right in (Nando De Colo). None of those players will help stop Dwight Howard down low or lock down a Russell Westbrook-Serge Ibaka pick-and-roll, but they’ll help the league’s best offense be even more efficient than last season. As much difficulty as the Spurs face defending an elite big man and protecting the rim, opposing teams have the same trouble slowing the Spurs offense when everyone is aggressive.
The days of the Twin Towers are gone. The Spurs will not be a Top-5 defensive team anymore, Gregg Popovich has said as much. They don’t have the horses to hold teams to 42% shooting night in and night out. I’ll look back fondly upon those down. But I’ve moved on, and while it’s unknown if the Spurs’ current style of play will ever win them another championship, I’m in full support of the movement.