Eight Left

Written on:May 18, 2014
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B.O.B. – When the hip hop duo, OutKast, released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, on April 26, 1994, Tim Duncan had just wrapped up his freshman season at Wake Forest. Fast forward twenty years and OutKast is the most buzzed about act on this year’s summer music festival circuit and Tim Duncan is making his twentieth appearance in the NCAA or NBA postseason. In the past 20 years, OutKast has sold more than 21 million copies of their six studio albums and Tim Duncan has been the anchor of Wake Forest Demon Deacon (NCAA) and San Antonio Spurs (NBA) teams that have won 1,168 basketball games. If you’re looking for standard-bearers in the fields of mainstream hip hop and professional sports, you would be hard-pressed to come up with better examples during this era. Sure, Jay Z has sold more records than OutKast and Kobe Bryant currently has one more championship ring than Timmy, so there are cases to be made elsewhere. Some might argue that OutKast should be disqualified because they haven’t released a studio album in almost 8 years or that Duncan should be disqualified because he has never won back-to-back championships. However, OutKast has released 5 hip hop masterpieces in the last 20 years and tomorrow, Tim Duncan will be appearing in his 9th Western Conference Finals with a fantastic opportunity to finish off his 5th masterpiece NBA season. In comparison, I would argue that Jay Z has only released 3 hip hop masterpieces (Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album) and Kobe Bryant has had only 8 appearances in the Western Conference Finals and won only 2 of his 5 titles while serving as the anchor of his Los Angeles Lakers teams. The Lakers have also missed the playoffs all together twice during the Kobe Bryant era whereas the Spurs have made it every single year with Timmy as the anchor and under his stewardship of the franchise. For my money, when it comes to consistent brilliance, OutKast and Tim Duncan are the clear choices as the standard-bearers for the the last twenty years.

Consistent brilliance is something that is hard to achieve in any human endeavor therefore it should be celebrated wherever it can be identified. The consistent brilliance of Tim Duncan is certainly not appreciated as much as it would have been had Timmy’s Spurs caught a few breaks here or there and he had finished off more playoff runs with NBA titles. A bounce of the ball here, a different referee call there and Tim Duncan could have realistically surpassed Michael Jordan’s 6 championship rings already. Had the San Antonio Spurs caught every single break in every single playoff run, it is not inconceivable that Duncan could be challenging to tie Bill Russell’s 11 championship rings this season. Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs have capitalized on 4 opportunities and won four titles so far. However, they were in the mix and were serious title contenders on at least six other occasions:

1999-2000: The San Antonio Spurs were denied a realistic opportunity to defend their 1999 title when Tim Duncan missed the playoffs due to injury for the first and only time of his career to date. Because of Timmy’s injury, the Spurs bowed out of the playoffs in the first round to Phoenix in 4 games. The Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles Lakers went on to capture the title, but only after the Portland Trail Blazers melted down in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Given that the Spurs had swept the Blazers and the Lakers in 1999 and the Lakers were just establishing themselves as a championship-level team during the 2000 playoff run, it is reasonable to assume that a healthy defending champion Spurs’ squad led by Tim Duncan would have had a puncher’s chance at fending off the up-and-coming Shaq and Kobe Lakers for one more year and might have started the San Antonio dynasty with back-to-back championships.

2003-2004: Point Four.

2005-2006: The Foul.

2007-2008: This year, Oklahoma City was given three days off by the NBA after winning a hard-fought series against the LA Clippers to advance to the Western Conference Finals. In 2008, the league did not extend the same courtesy to the Spurs after we won an epic 7 game semifinal series on the road in New Orleans on May 19th. The Spurs were expected to be in Los Angeles to play the Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on May 21st and had already had the bad luck of having spent several hours stuck on the team plane during a delay of their flight leaving New Orleans. Despite all of this, the Spurs dominated the first half of Game 1 of the WCF against the Lakers and looked primed to steal home court advantage for the series. However, the team ran out of gas in the second half and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a 89-85 comeback victory. The Spurs could never recover. Manu Ginobili played the series injured and Joey Crawford and company swallowed the whistle when the Lakers fouled Brent Barry on the final possession of Game 4 which could have won the game for the Spurs and tied the series at 2-2. The league later acknowledged that the foul call should have been made but it was too late for the Spurs as another title run went up in flames when the Spurs were eliminated in Game 5, losing 100-92 back in LA.

2010-2011: After securing the best record in the Western Conference, another injury sidelined Manu Ginbobili for the first game of the first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. That small opening was all that the Grizzlies needed to take advantage and steal home court advantage in Game 1, defeating the Spurs in San Antonio 101-98 with the help of a cold blooded Zach Randolph three pointer. The Spurs, playing from behind the rest of the series, eventually bowed out in Game 6 in Memphis to become only the second number one seeded team to lose a 7 game first round series (2007 Dallas Mavericks). Had the Spurs figured out a way to get out of that first round series with Memphis, we would have had a great opportunity to win the title because our in-state rivals, the Dallas Mavericks, capitalized on the fact that the Kevin Durant led Thunder and the LeBron James led Heat were not quite ready to win a championship. As this year has proven, any playoff match-up between the Spurs and Mavericks is an all out war but given that we have gotten the upper hand (winning 4 out of 6 playoff series against the Mavs) there would have been a decent chance that we would have defeated that team in the Western Conference Finals, no matter how well Dirk was playing. Had that happened, the Spurs would have had a crack at the Miami Heat before they had obtained collective championship experience. The Spurs, just like the Mavs, would have taken advantage and won those Finals.

2012-2013: 28 Seconds Away.

In a perfect world, one that affords the San Antonio Spurs every break, every single year, Tim Duncan would currently be competing for his 11th title to tie the mark set by Bill Russell. While the world clearly isn’t perfect, the fact that Tim Duncan-led Spurs teams have been serious title contenders enough times that Timmy’s career could rival Russell’s if the world were perfect is a testament to the consistent brilliance of Duncan. As outlined above, the San Antonio Spurs have had our fair share of bad breaks that have costs us opportunities to go out and seize opportunities to grab more rings. At this point, however, there is no need to dwell on the what ifs. I bring them up in this context simply to demonstrate how dominant of a force Tim Duncan has been in the NBA. While most NBA fans and experts give Timmy deserved praise as an all-time great player and many people even consider him the greatest power forward of all-time, I think that these bad playoff breaks have certainly caused the vast majority of the basketball public to undervalue his greatness. If the Spurs had simply capitalized on one third of the six serious opportunities to win a title outlined above, Timmy would have six rings (tied with Jordan) which would have framed this year’s run as Duncan’s opportunity to surpass Jordan in titles which would have forced the basketball public to view his place among the all-time greats completely differently. For Spurs fans, however, after all of the heart break we have endured, we are more than willing to be completely satisfied with just one more. Seeing Tim Duncan finally celebrate one more championship, 15 years after his first, would allow us to count our blessings and move forward into the future being completely content with the Tim Duncan era of Spurs basketball. Amazing as it might have sounded a few years ago, Timmy has yet another golden opportunity in 2014 to hoist his 5th NBA Championship trophy. Using the 5 masterpiece albums recorded by OutKast as metaphors, what follows are the 5 reasons that I feel extremely confident that Tim Duncan will seize this opportunity to finish off his 5th masterpiece NBA season.

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik: Danny Green and Kawhi Leoanard must have been really angry that the team’s chances of a sweep in Game 4 were ruined by the bad karma generated from one small corner of the San Antonio Spurs blogging community (see Four Right) because both players played with a chip on their shoulders in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers to earn co-player of the game honors. Danny had 22 points on 9-13 shooting (4-6 from downtown) and added 9 rebounds. Kawhi had 22 points on 9-15 shooting (3-4 from downtown) including his most spectacular dunk of the season and he also grabbed 7 boards of his own. For the fourth time in five games the Spurs dominated the Blazers, winning Game 5 going away and closing out Portland’s young up-and-coming squad 104-82 on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center. While it was a relief to get the series finished so that San Antonio would have an opportunity to get some rest before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the fortune of an easy closeout game against the Blazers came with the cost of losing Tony Parker in the first half to a hamstring injury. Tony went scoreless in 10 minutes of play but luckily it was later determined that it was a Grade 1 strain (the least severe) and Tony has said that he expects to play in Game 1 of the WCF. The emergence of Danny and Kawhi in Game 5 against the Blazers is the first reason that I am confident in the Spurs’ chances this season. If the duo can play like they did on Wednesday on both sides of the court for the duration of this playoff run, it will be virtually impossible for any of the remaining teams to stop San Antonio and our young perimeter talent from having a Player’s Ball at the AT&T Center sometime next month.

ATLiens: Former Atlanta Hawk, Boris Diaw, and his cohort of alien residents who formulate the lineup within the Spurs’ second unit that is otherwise referred to as the Foreign Legion played a magnificent second-round series against Portland. This lineup, consisting of Boris, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes, and professor emeritus Manu Ginobili, was largely absent during big stretches of the first round series with Dallas. However, the Foreign Legion recovered nicely to overwhelm the Blazers’ bench which was one of the weakest benches in the NBA throughout the course of the season. The San Antonio second unit outscored its Portland counterpart 220-77 over the duration of the 5 game series. This was a clear advantage. As talented as the Blazers’ starting unit is, it was a tall task for them to try to keep pace with the Spurs by playing extended minutes while our starting unit was getting normal rest. The teams who are remaining in the 2014 NBA playoffs are all deeper than Portland so it is imperative to our chances for success that the Foreign Legion and the rest of our bench continue to play sharp, confident basketball for the rest of this tournament. The strong performance of the second unit during the Western Conference Semifinals is the second reason that I am confident that San Antonio will be taking Elevators (Me & You) to the top of the NBA mountain sometime in the latter part of next month.

Aquemini: One could argue that Big Boi and Andre 3000 were at the peak of their powers as a hip hop duo with the effort on display in 1998’s, Aquemini. When OutKast released that album in 1998, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were four years away from becoming teammates with the San Antonio Spurs and were close to a decade away from being at the peak of their powers as a basketball duo. Now 16 years after the release of OutKast’s opus and in their 12th season as teammates, Tony and Manu are still making beautiful music together on the basketball court. While these days they seem to take turns putting together dominant performances, they are still capable of obliterating the opposition by both playing at their best on any given night. This was evident once already during this year’s playoff run, and at the most needed time, when the Spurs’ legendary backcourt dismantled the Dallas Maverick’s defense in Game 7 of the first round series, combining for 52 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 6 steals in a season-saving performance that resulted in a blowout victory. It should go without saying that Tony and Manu must be playing together at a high level in order for San Antonio to have a realistic shot at ending this season in a title. Late this afternoon news was released that comes as a huge relief to Spurs fans. The hamstring injury which sidelined Tony for the majority of Game 5 against the Blazers on Wednesday night is not going to keep him out of the lineup to start the Western Conference Finals as he has been cleared to play in Game 1. Unfortunately for fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder (San Antonio’s WCF opponent), news this week out of their camp unfortunately went the other way as the team announced that starting power forward, Serge Ibaka, will likely be sidelined for the remainder of the 2014 postseason with a calf strain. This is a devastating loss for the Thunder and for Spurs fans like me, who always want to play our top competition at full strength, it is certainly disappointing news that the Thunder’s third most important offensive player and the anchor of their defense will be sidelined for the series. Nonetheless, the Spurs cannot relax for one minute in Game 1 or throughout the series because we are still facing league MVP, Kevin Durant, and his all-star teammate Russell Westbrook in this series. Add in that Derick Fisher, who has made a career out of sticking the knife in the hearts of Spurs fans, is also on the other side of the ball and we still have our work cut out for us if we want to win the West. But if Tony and Manu can continue to set the table for the the Spurs’ shooters to feast on open three pointers so that we can smoke the Thunder defense like we intend to Skew It on the Bar-B, then we should be just fine in this series. The timelessly elite combination of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the Spurs’ backcourt is the third reason that I am confident that the 2014 campaign will end with San Antonio bogging in to our favorite local cuisine for a jubilant celebration in June.

Stankonia: If you have been following this year’s installment of the Black & Silver blog so far, then you are probably well aware that I have dedicated the series of posts for the 2014 postseason to my best friend Brian, who passed away shortly before the beginning of the playoffs. In October 2000, OutKast released Stankonia which was a special moment in Brian and my friendship. We were roommates at the time and we had both been waiting anxiously for weeks for the new OutKast record to drop. The day of the release, we both waited to listen to any of it until we were both home from work and or school and could listen to the entire album together. I remember that we had a spectacular listening session together that day and were blown away by the brilliance of the album. In particular, I remember that Brian could not get enough of B.O.B., the song that also bares the name of the subtitle to this blog post. The sheer creativity and innovation on display by OutKast in B.O.B. was clearly inspirational to Brian as evidenced by this. Being that Brian and I were also a hip hop duo, I always sensed that we had a special insight into the nature of Big Boi and Andre 3000’s relationship as partners and friends and I was always curious to watch how the pair navigated the waters of the music industry as a group and also independently as artists. It always seemed helpful to try to attempt to relate what Brian and I went through over the course of our 16 years together as Rhime Divine to the evolution of OutKast as a duo over the same period of time. In Fifteen Left, I laid out my motivations to attempt this sequel to last year’s Black & Silver blog series. At times it has been rough, but I have truly felt Brian’s presence with me during the time that I have spent watching each of these Spurs playoff games. While I prefer to keep details of the spiritual effect that this journey has had on helping navigate through my grieving process private for now, I can say that there is this feeling that I am holding inside of me which is full of Brian’s energy and which is telling me that this particular Spurs playoff run is going to end with San Antonio swagging So Fresh, So Clean when it is all said and done. This constant feeling of reassurance and excitement is the fourth reason why I am confident that the Spurs will be bringing the NBA Championship trophy back to Titletown, TX.

Speakerboxxx / The Love Below: In 2004, OutKast won the Grammy for album of the year becoming arguably the first rappers to win that prestigious award (Lauryn Hill won the 1999 ‘Album of the Year’ Grammy for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, partly on the skills that she showcased as an emcee on that album). When OutKast released this classic double album where each artist was largely responsible for one disc, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan were half way through earning the four NBA titles that they currently have together. For 17 seasons now, Coach Pop and Timmy have worked together as the driving force behind the San Antonio Spurs’ sustained success. While they serve in different roles for the organization and are seemingly so different in so many ways, they also appear to be as inseparable as OutKast, with careers that are so interlinked that it almost seems incomprehensible to entertain the idea of one without the other. In other words, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are the OutKast of the NBA. At the beginning of this post when I compared the sustained brilliance of OutKast to the sustained brilliance of Tim Duncan and pronounced that these individuals are the standard-bearers in their given fields over the last 20 years, I purposefully left Tim Duncan’s partner out of the equation. After all, that is the way that Coach Pop would want it. For his entire career, Gregg Popovich as deflected the praise that he receives for his success toward his players, specifically his artistic partner…Tim Duncan. While Coach Pop and Timmy might be recording separate discs, they are working magic together in the studio this summer trying to put the finishing touches on their 5th masterpiece NBA season. And if the #BlackAndSilver are able to complete this long, hard journey and capture the title that has alluded us for the better part of a decade now, perhaps we might even get a rare moment of positive emotion out of Coach Pop on the podium. If, indeed, the Spurs climb the mountain and we are lucky enough to have Pop give a reaction to express his excitement, I suspect he might express it in as little as two words with something like, “Hey Ya!” But we can’t get ahead of ourselves just yet. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan know better than anyone that the hardest legs of this journey are still to come. This duo has been around the block one too many times to start looking ahead of the task which is right in front of them. Right now, that is the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tomorrow night. Coach Pop will have the team ready for that challenge and Tim Duncan will be ready to add another chapter to his historic legacy. The number one reason that I am confident that the San Antonio Spurs will be the 2014 NBA Champions is the consistent brilliance of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. And peering back over the last 20 years of basketball, I couldn’t ask for a better reason.


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