Cool moment. Changing of the guard in the NBA.
Something special happened last night. The San Antonio Spurs achieved a feat that we get the pleasure of witnessing no more than five times a year in the sports world. It happens so rarely that at time fans and athletes alike forget that it even exists in sports. Coaches preach of its virtues and try their damnedest to instruct their teams in the way of attaining it. Most fail. Last night, during the third quarter of a playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs achieved athletic perfection. Watch (scroll to the 1:46 mark of the video, if it doesn’t start there automatically):
It began around the 11:06 mark in the third quarter and lasted until about the 5:15 mark. During that span, the Spurs were a breath-taking juggernaut, scoring 25 points on 9/11 shooting including a startling 5/5 mark from the three-point line. The spacing, cutting, and ball movement among the Spurs players was something that led many a NBA analyst remarking that he had never witnessed passing at such an elite level. And what’s remarkable about the passing is not only each player’s ability to read the defense and make the correct play, but also that the passes arrive in exactly the spot that a shooter needs it in order to take a good shot. Remember that a half second can mean the difference between a wide-open three and having your shot blocked on a close out, given the speed of NBA players (think: Westbrook).
Every Spurs read and subsequent pass was perfect during this stretch. It all culminated in that excellent behind-the-back pass from Manu Ginobli to Tony Parker in which the Thunder’s transition defense was so taken aback by the wide-openness of Parker that they let him take the three without a single player running out to challenge the shot. Parker took his time, squared his feet, and knocked it down. Of course he did.
The three readers of this site know by now that my favorite sports article of all-time is a David Foster Wallace’s “Federer As Religous Experience.” At its most simplistic level, the piece details Wallace’s fascination with the greatest tennis player in the world at the peak of his powers. Better than perhaps any individual who ever attempted to do so, Wallace is able to describe what it is that makes witnessing Federer so powerful to a sports fan. He discusses the impossibility of his shot-making and the brilliance of his decision-making. The genius of the piece, to me, eventually defines what’s appealing about watching competitive sports played at a level like that, to which Wallace writes:
Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war. The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.
What Wallace describes is athletic perfection. We’re attracted to it because it happens so rarely. We delight in it because of the sheer impossibility of it all. For about six minutes last night the Spurs were able to achieve that. To be honest, I could not even tell you the last time I witnessed it on a basketball court. I’ve seen it happen in soccer multiple times in the last three years with Barcelona and Lionel Messi. The St. Louis Cardinals found a little bit of it in their World Series run last year. Eli Manning seems to find it once every five years or so, but only when his team is trailing late in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl to the Patriots.
To a sport dork like myself, it’s why I devote so much time to consuming sports content every day. Although I admit that I do take a sicker, darker pleasure in seeing my home-town teams succeed, there is nothing purer as a fan of sports than witnessing something like that. I’m reduced to being a fan of the game itself which is really what it should be all about in the first place. It’s also far easier to reconcile the countless hours spent watching, reading, and studying. For most people a championship every decade or so suffices. For me it’s these sporadic glimpses of greatness.
I guess what I really want to say is that if you’re any kind of a fan of basketball or sports in general, you should be tuning in right now to watch the San Antonio Spurs to see how long this lasts. They have a legitimate shot at sweeping the entire playoffs, a feat which has never been accomplished. More importantly for you though, you might get to witness a breath-taking stretch like occurred last night. When you finally are able to let go of living and dying with your team and enjoy the purity of rooting for great sports, you’ll learn to love the games in ways that are infinitely more rewarding.
Trust me, I’m a sports dork.
This is big considering Ibaka has been the best shot blocker in the NBA playoffs. Also: Duncan is old.
This is a new experiment where I try to imagine a world in which each of the remaining NBA playoff teams goes on to win the NBA title this year. Apologies to all Sixers and Pacers fans, you have no chance and are therefore excluded from my four fantasy worlds. Without further or do, take a trip into my beautiful dark twisted fantasy.
[time traveling one month ahead]
San Antonio Spurs
And thus begins a summer where one of the biggest decisions in NBA history will be made. Will Tim Duncan choose to come back and play for the Spurs after winning his fifth NBA title on an expiring contract? The Spurs have the potential to go on another dynasty run. The championship squad loses only Danny Green and Boris Diaw to free agency, both of whom would likely re-sign at discounted prices. The rest of the team is signed for a title defense and the scary part is they could add even more pieces if Duncan took any kind of a reduction from the $21 million he earned this past season. Is it worth it though? Duncan would have the rare opportunity to walk off while on top of his sport all while winning his fourth Finals MVP. This puts him easily in the conversation for the best seven players ever to play the game. It’s no secret his body is breaking down and he struggles to recover from the long NBA schedule. The question will ultimately come down to how badly Tim Duncan wants to continue playing basketball and if he wants to edge into the conversation for top three players ever. No seriously, he could likely get to six, maybe seven titles before his body completely goes. [checks notes] Mark it down people, Tim Duncan just signed on for another three years and disrupted the championship aspirations of every young buck in the NBA. LeBron James cries himself to sleep somewhere.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant finally fulfilled his destiny and became everything America wanted LeBron James to be. The media and the bandwagon NBA fans can’t create enough cliches to describe how “clutch” Kevin Durant is and how he “gets it.” At times it’s hard to argue with the logic though as Durant hit a game-winner in game two and iced the game from the free throw line in games four and six. The final freebies in game six eventually sealed the deal on the Thunder’s first title and broke the hearts of Sonics fans everywhere. The Thunder are poised to become the next alpha dogs of the NBA after unseating the Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics in consecutive series, all of whom represented the last stand of the old guard in the NBA. There seems to be no reason the Thunder can’t vie for the next two NBA titles and contend for the first three-peat since the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Their success directly led to Ray Allen’s decision to leave Boston in free agency as well as force Kevin Garnett’s retirement. Beyond this it gets questionable for the Thunder as a franchise though. Can they afford to keep both Ibaka and Harden? Harden surely could convince a team to pay him max money. Will they convince him to go the Manu Ginobli route instead of the Maurice Lucas on guys who should play second fiddle on a contender but could earn alpha dog money on a pretender? Will the infamous “Disease Of More” grab hold of this team and eventually cause Russell Westbrook to demand a trade? Lots of interesting questions surrounding these young Thunder and head coach Scott Brooks. For now, we pause to celebrate their remarkable accomplishment. No seriously, Kevin Durant is only 23 years old and already has a Finals MVP!
They did it again. They fooled us all into believing this was really their last shot and now they have us all wondering if Kobe wasn’t the only aging NBA star to go receive secret knee treatments in Germany. Can you believe the nerve of this team? We now have to consider them as an actual force that changed the history of the NBA rather than a squad that put together one random championship. Selfish! As the famous Bob Ryan quipped, “they were in a year five of a three-year plan,” and now they go off and win the freaking NBA title, defeating no less than LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the process. There’s just something about this damn team where everybody knows when it’s their turn to carry the load and responds accordingly. Who can forget the Ray Allen explosion to steal game one for 33 points, on the road no less? After dropping game two, Kevin Garnett gave a vintage KG 25-15 performance to help the Celtics win game three. Rajon Rondo did the Rondo thing to win game four with a staggering 20-15-13 line that made us all question who the best point guard in the NBA really is. Who else could it be if the young Celtic has two rings and Rose/Paul/Williams/Westbrook have zero combined? And then, of course, Paul Pierce shut it down in game six to give the Celtics the most improbable of NBA Championships. In related news, Bill Simmons broke the record for longest sustained erection and we all have to spend the summer reading his tribute columns to his latest favorite Celtics squad ever. No seriously, consider all that happened to make this possible: Derrick Rose got hurt, Dwight Howard got hurt, Chris Bosh got hurt, Dwyane Wade played on one knee, Manu Ginobli went down with an ankle injury, and Kendrick Perkins fell victim AGAIN with a knee injury in the finals. How badly did the basketball gods want this to happen? And why can’t things go like this for the Nuggets for once? With a salary reduction in order for KG after an expiring contract, are they now an outside contender to land Dwight Howard? I hate everything.
Oh my. Did we just witness the beginning of something special? Did LeBron James really just average a triple double in the NBA finals against a Duncan/Popovich Spurs squad? Are we sure that’s legal? It may have been the single most dominant NBA Finals by a single player ever, with LeBron finally proving to all his critics that he really did only need one more marquee player to win that elusive title. As Chris Bosh sat on the sidelines, LeBron and Dwyane Wade embarked on the greatest conquest by a talented duo since Jordan and Pippen simply refused to lose NBA titles to the far more talented Utah Jazz teams. And I have to admit, I find it quite poetic. For some reason it just feels right that they did it without Bosh to finally break through for the first title in the era of the super teams. There are long term ramifications for this championship. The first consequence is that every franchise in the NBA is now going to try to replicate the formula and it will likely lead to even more restrictions on player movement when the owners opt out of the CBA early, and bet the family mortgage that this happens. Another long-term implication is that the other players in the NBA are scared. Really scared. Everything these players, coaches, GMs, and owners have been taught and witnessed their whole lives led them to believe that you needed a true team in order to win a title. If two gentlemen can pair up, independent of the wishes of GMs and owners, and win the NBA title by themselves, what chance do the others have? It would be like Barack Obama getting elected back in the 1960s. Heads are spinning everywhere and no one is sure how to react. If there is anything to be thankful for it’s this. We no longer have to listen to all the LeBron banter about his unclutchness or how he has no rings. The only debate now is how many will he win in a row. Damn. How are they going to stop him if he continues to play like that????
It’s playoff season, which of course means Manu needs to go down with an absolutely random, tragic injury.
The Mavs would go on to win in overtime.
It happens fast so keep your eyes open around the :05 mark.