Thursday, July 11, 2013

The rings that got away spurred San Antonio on

I have been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs ever since I started watching basketball religiously in 2003. I liked the unassuming nature of Tim Duncan and the way about which the Spurs went about their business. I appreciate the nuances and tactics of sport, unlike many others, I don't follow sports mostly for the entertainment. I could literally succeed at coaching basketball teams. I've watched enough bball to do X's and O's to make my team earn multiple team hugs and several kisses from cheerleaders :-) The Spurs have been organizing basketball clinics on NBA courts for years now with super results. However, as much as they have won, they have also lost some big ones. They lost none bigger than this year's NBA Finals. It's just one of those that got away.

From about 1994 up until 2003, two men had been part of every single NBA championship team. Robert Horry & Steve Kerr.  Read about them here. After seeing Robert Horry's Lakers win three straight rings, the Spurs called on Steve Kerr, their winningmost player who had helped deliver its sole ring in 1999 and had 4 of his own. He came off the bench, dusted off his rust and hit 4 huge 3 pointers in the 2003 Western Conference Finals series vrs the Dallas Mavericks to help the Spurs win it. The Spurs were always going to beat the East's New Jersey Nets, so that victory over the Mavericks was the most important. So in 2004, with Steve Kerr gone and the urge to defend their championship, the San Antonio Spurs reloaded. They enlisted the services of who else? - Robert Horry!

The Los Angeles Lakers had just gotten Gary Payton, who was nicknamed the Glove and was one of the best defensive and offensive guards ever. They had also signed Karl Malone who was arguably the best power forward in the history of the game with the second most career points ever. He was called the Mailman but had never delivered a championship. Robert Horry would have been a bit player with LA, but in SA, he would have a major role. The Spurs would be able to defend their championship. The Spurs were on their way to doing just that. Tim Duncan had made a very difficult shot over Shaquille O'Neal with just a few ticks to go. It was worthy of a game-winner, and this would have given the Spurs a 3-2 series lead. The Lakers had Shaq, Kobe, Karl and Gary on their team with 0.4 seconds left to save their season. That's where they used them all as decoys and got Derek Fisher a shot which he nailed. It was a whisker away from not counting. The Spurs would have won that NBA Finals versus the Pistons. Interestingly, Karl Malone got injured, Shaq and Kobe got in each other's way and the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 championship.

The Spurs came back in 2005 with virtually the same core. Robert Horry earned his Big Shot Rob moniker that year, making huge plays to help the Spurs get the 3rd ring and 2nd in 3 years. With Shaqobe over and Shaq-Wade a work in progress, Gregg Popovich's team were favorites to defend their championship. After fending off the challenge of the Sacramento Kings, they set up for a battle of Texas with the Dallas Mavericks. The rivalry brought a hard-fought series which culminated in a Game 7 in San Antonio. The Spurs were going to take this series until another freak incident happened. It wasn't fished out by the opponent like Derek of 2004, this time the bone of discontent was from within. After hitting a huge 3 to put his team up 3, Manu Ginobli committed a silly foul which allowed Dirk Nowitzki to get a 3-point play and a tie lead the Dallas Mavericks would make full use of. Interestingly, Mark Cuban's fledgings couldn't complete their run, losing to the Dwyane Wade led Miami Heat.

The Spurs came back in 2007 and won the championship, sweeping Lebron's Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. If not for Derek Fisher's 0.4 shot and that extra foul by Manu Ginobli, the Spurs could have very well won 5 straight championships from 2003-2007. Now tell me they are not a dynasty. The Spurs spent another 5 years without getting to the Finals. They suffered shock first round losses to the Memphis Grizzlies,as a Number 1 seed no less and another to the Dallas Mavericks. Better teams in the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder also seemed to end their reign in the Western Conference.

After a number of years on the periphery and disappointments, the Spurs got back to the Finals this year. I am one of a few people who saw this coming. I always believed in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli to have another good run. But like those 2 years of nearness, 2013 delivered probably the hardest loss. 5 up with 26 seconds to go leading 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs dared Lebron James to make a 3 to save the Miami Heat's season. It fell. The man who had helped make sure Lebron would be taking more 3s than usual, Kawhi Leonard was at the line. He botched one free throw. 3 point game, Miami with the ball. Not sure how many people had the presence of the mind to remember that Ray Allen was playing for the team down 3. Lebron missed another 3, Duncan was nowhere to get the rebound and Bosh rebounded the ball, and shuttled it to the one in whose hands, 3 points was worth the most. Jesus! "It's Ray Allen!" BAM! Tie ball game, overtime! Like that scenario in 2006, the Spurs didn't survive the disappointment. The Heatles won their second straight ring.

We'd see how the Spurs bounce back after this. If you think the Spurs are too old to challenge and possibly win a championship, you have another thought coming. Because the Spurs just keep on coming.
Post a Comment

Disqus for The Vim Views & Versions - Blogs of a MIghTy African