Writer’s Note: To inaugurate the launch of Black & Silver: theSanAntonioSpurs blog presented by theLeftAhead, I am posting an article that I wrote during the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs when the Spurs were trailing the Memphis Grizzlies 3 games to 1. Luckily, this year the Spurs are off to a better start! They are leading the Utah Jazz 1 game to 0 after defeating them in the playoff opener last Sunday. Stay tuned to Black & Silver throughout the Spurs’ playoff run as I will be regularly posting Spurs related content with theLeftAhead flavor that you have come to expect. Enjoy.
…and the national sports media, the heretics, and the faithless will gawk in disbelief as they stumble upon an empty tomb.
Today the San Antonio Spurs were buried. Headlines across the country spoke of the end of a dynasty and compared the Spurs to sports heroes such as Muhammed Ali and Willie Mays stumbling in the twilight of their careers. Radio commentators, having already advanced the Memphis Grizzlies to the second round, speculated on how far they can go in the playoffs. Critic after critic lined up to get a turn to throw dirt on the grave of a once proud champion. Generic hacks chuckled at their extraordinary gravitas as they bemused the symbolism of Tim Duncan’s poor performance on his 35th birthday as the tour de force of their pathetic attempts to creatively contextualize the demise of the Spurs. A committee was formed, invitations were sent out via the airwaves and the AP wire, and a bandwagon that stretches from Beale Street to the TNT Studios in Atlanta was boarded by all.
The Memphis Grizzlies, with one spectacular half of basketball, have turned an evenly played playoff series into a funeral procession. Zach Randolph is quite the magician. He sure does have a lot of tricks. First he disguises his slightly above average career as an NBA journeyman in the cloak of the most dominant post player in the NBA playoffs since well, the 2007 version of Tim Duncan. Then he magically transforms a lucky shot to appear to the masses as the work of a seasoned NBA three point marksman. Now, apparently, Zach Randolph has mastered the greatest trick of all; the ability to travel back in time. It seems that Zach has magically transported his team and the rest of the country back to 2002. Back then, the first round of the NBA playoffs was only a five game series. A team needed only win three games to advance. Judging by todays reaction of the Spurs inability to win either Game 3 or Game 4, such is the case once again in 2011. Smoke and mirrors can only take a player, a franchise, and a city so far. Memphis has won the first three playoff games in franchise history. Great, congratulations. Tomorrow night they will get their first true test of what the NBA playoffs are all about.
Winning their fourth playoff game in franchise history and eliminating the four time champion Spurs in the process will not be easy. Just ask the 2008 New Orleans Hornets. In the second round of that year’s playoffs the similarly inexperienced Hornets blew out the Spurs in New Orleans three times before succumbing to the pressure of closing them out by losing Game 6 in San Antonio and Game 7 in New Orleans. The Spurs will dig deep tomorrow night in San Antonio and tap into their pride and anger to find the energy to win Game 5 against Memphis. Should the series extend back to San Antonio for Game 7, the Spurs will be heavily favored to take the advantage of the frenzied home crowd that they worked all season to earn and eliminate Memphis. That puts an awful lot of pressure on the Memphis Grizzlies to close out the Spurs in Game 6 on their home court. And considering that they will be working to achieve something that the national media has already convinced America they have already achieved, it is quite possible that those free flowing jump shots might have tightened up a little bit by Friday night.
Do the Spurs need to play better? There is no question that they do. And true Spurs fans have no doubt that they will. True Spurs fans have faith that the champions that have delivered in these situations for years and years are not going to start lying down now. Most of the Grizzlies’ confidence-building runs in this series have been a direct result of uncharacteristic unforced Spurs turnovers. These careless mistakes have prevented the Spurs from delivering to Memphis thus far the only thing the Spurs need to deliver in order to break the Grizzlies and win the series. One overpowering and suffocating six minute stretch of well executed Spurs playoff basketball. It will only take one of these six minutes stretches and the Memphis Grizzlies will fold up their tents, put back on their “happy to be here” eighth seed hats and go away. Had the Spurs been healthy for Game One and already delivered such a blitz, this series would already be over and the Spurs would be game planning the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Grizzlies have still not yet beaten a healthy Spurs team in San Antonio this season and the Memphis Grizzlies have never closed out a playoff opponent. The Spurs have won countless pressure filled playoff Game 6’s on the road. Memphis is riding high on being the national media darlings and the sheik new in playoff pick. They have played well thus far in the series and earned their two game advantage. Tomorrow night with one thunderous Manu Ginobili dunk a new wrinkle will enter into their playoff experience; doubt. It will be subtle, but everything will begin to change. One by one the jump shots they have been hitting all series will begin to rattle out and the foul calls they have relied on to fend off the Spurs in close games won’t be made by the referees any more. Before they know it, the Grizzlies will be staring down a Game 6 fourth quarter deficit on Friday night and Zach Randolph will reach into his bag of tricks and realize there is nothing left.
Next Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies bandwagon will come to a screeching halt in San Antonio. The gathered masses who yesterday booked their easy ticket to lay the Spurs dynasty to rest will instead discover an empty tomb and quickly repent as they bare witness to a resurrection. The first ones off the wagon will be the national media, they will scramble to quickly replace the words “old” and “done” with “experienced” and “savvy” so they can dust off their tired, clique stories about how you never count out the heart of a champion. Next off the wagon will be the heretics. They are the Spurs fans who have allowed a little adversity to shake their faith in the team. As of yesterday, they have written off this team. As we speak, they are complaining about the refs, or the coaching, or the lack of fight in the players and quietly shopping for a new team to cheer for throughout the rest of the playoffs. Next Sunday, they will be beating their chests loudly and telling anyone who will listen how they knew all along that the Spurs would prevail. Deep down in their hearts they will know that their testament is false but we’ll welcome them back anyway. Last off the wagon will be the faithless. These are the apostates. The people who stopped believing in the Spurs in 2009. The fans and analysts who said then that the Spurs were no longer a championship contender. The people who have whole heartedly given up on the notion that another river parade will come to fruition in the Tim Duncan era. They have dismissed this team and their exceptional record all year long but next Sunday they might begin to have their faith restored. We will welcome them back as well. As for the true Spurs fans, the one’s who have never stopped believing, we will quietly and reflectively enjoy Easter next Sunday when the San Antonio Spurs eliminate the Memphis Grizzlies from the NBA playoffs. Tonight as the rest of the basketball world laughs, we remain steadfast in our faith that sometime this June our beloved Spurs will be NBA champions once again.
Written April 2011 in San Antonio, TX
Featured Image Source: United Church of God