As an old school San Antonio Spurs fan, the 2013 NBA Playoffs have been bittersweet to this point. After sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the Spurs got all they wanted and then some from the feisty young Golden State Warriors, which wasn’t fun to watch. Game 4 was especially disheartening as the Spurs battled into overtime only to get crushed in the extra period. Being on edge while facing an unproven yet dangerous team is enough to drive an old basketball soul crazy. However, Games 5 and 6 of the series reminded me these are still the same old Spurs who rely on fundamentals, defense and teamwork when it matters most.
It’s at least partially due to Russell Westbrook‘s injury, but I couldn’t help being anxious when I heard about the Oklahoma City Thunder guard’s torn meniscus in his knee. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t wish injury on anyone and if I could have prevented Westbrook from going down, I would have. However, with his absence, I knew it was a sign that this is it for the Big Three.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili caught a break with Westbrook’s injury and at first it seemed as if they knew it when the Spurs absolutely crushed the Lakers in Game 4 to end their first-round series two days later. Then San Antonio was rudely reminded of its age in a double overtime thriller at home against the Warriors in Game 1 of their Conference Semifinal series and just like that, the anxiety shifted and worsened.
That didn’t happen because I think this is the last time this group of Spurs will make the playoffs; quite the contrary, I expect Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker to all be together again next season for another 50-win campaign and a top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs. However, this is the last chance the Spurs have to win a title with those three players at the center of attention. I’d give my left kidney for Kawhi Leonard to be three years older with that much more experience under his belt because I believe the Spurs could really do it this year with him as arguably the most important member of the “Big Four.” But it remains to be seen whether Leonard will gather his inner Norris Cole and come of age on the game’s biggest stage in these playoffs.
Of course, the Spurs have to get there first. The Memphis Grizzlies present arguably a tougher challenge than the Thunder would have even with Westbrook in the lineup. Duncan is far too old to be banging around in the paint with the likes of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph for 40 minutes and Ginobili isn’t as quick as he once was, which will hurt him when trying to get past ruthless defenders like Tony Allen. Obviously, Parker is going to get a ton of attention as well, so it will be up to Leonard to step up and give the Big Three a boost to get back to the Finals for one last shot.
Even then, the Spurs don’t match up well against the Miami Heat. As the Spurs’ best defender, Leonard isn’t ready to guard LeBron James one on one in a seven-game series, Ginobili is too slow to guard Dwyane Wade, Parker is too short to guard Wade and Duncan is not physically able to chase Chris Bosh all over the half court anymore. However, this group of Spurs realizes this is the end. Duncan is one of the smartest players in history, so he knows very well this is his best chance to win a ring for his thumb and ride off into the sunset as the greatest NBA power forward of all time. But as great as he is at age 37, he can’t do it alone.
Unless the Spurs win it all with the Big Three one last time this year, they’ll all be back next year, but the torch will have passed. The Spurs will continue to be a regular season titan but their age will hinder them too much in the playoffs as it has for the past half a dozen years. San Antonio is ready but it just may not have enough to pull out one last trick at this point. Regardless, the Spurs won’t go down easily. As one fellow old school Spurs said yesterday, it’s now or never, fellas.