Victory – We’ve been hot for a long time burning like a candle. Much like Newton’s Laws of Motion, one would assume it safe scientific theory to postulate that if two basketball teams were to repeatedly play each other over and over again, it’s a statistical inevitability that eventually one of the two teams will win a game on the road. In the 2016-17 NBA season, the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs made an impressive run at turning any such theory on its head. Prior to Game 6 of our Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup, the two teams had faced each other nine times this season and in all nine contests, the home team had come away victorious. Heading into Thursday’s game, it was beginning to look like statistical probability (and by extension science itself) was being rejected by these results. This was of grave concern. Not only because our series with Memphis was not playing out as we (as Spurs fans) had expected but also because in Trump’s America, the last thing we (as intelligent lifeforms) need is to give the anti-intellectual crowd anything else to hang their science-rebuking hats on. On Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs finally got around to celebrating Earth Day by doing something that we had fought valiantly but ultimately failed to do last Saturday in Game 4. Six nights after failing in overtime at a stellar defense of science on the actual holiday, we went back into Memphis on Thursday and belatedly participated in the March For Science by finally proving our scientific theory of statistical inevitability by way of winning a basketball game on the road. For the first time in one year and four days, and when it mattered most, the Spurs won a game in the FedExForum and, consequentially, are heading back the Western Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive year. Hurray, science! Our season series with Memphis was like one of those fantastic rallies in a tennis match in which both players want the point so desperately that a once athletic exhibition devolves into the equivalent of a staring contest; merely an exercise in who’s will power can hold out the longest. For one nerve-racking, mentally-draining Thursday evening at the Grind House in Memphis, the city of San Antonio held on to our will power long enough to eventually heave at a seemingly out of reach passing shot and get enough racket on it loft it up in the air and back across the court with the minimal necessary velocity to have it ricochet off of the top of the net and favorably drop on the other side. Credit to Memphis. They were not an opponent intent on being broken. It took every single last available neuron of mental energy for the Spurs to somehow outlast a poised, rugged Grizzlies bunch 103-96 in Game 6 and eliminate our division rival from the 2017 NBA playoffs by finally winning on the road. Congratulations are in order to the Memphis Grizzlies and their bombastic rookie coach David Fizdale on an excellent season. With Mike Conley proving once and for all this season that he’s one of the best players in the NBA, the future looks bright on Beale Street.
Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it. With 6:28 to play in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies were trucking along in a state of uniform motion. Up seven points at 88-81, they were moving steadily towards forcing a Game 7 back in San Antonio on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies and their fans, a force was impressed upon them that compelled them to change that state of motion. What exactly was this force that was impressed upon the city of Memphis? Kawhi Freaking Leonard. In Tres Triunfos, we talked about how (at six years in, roughly the same point as Tim Duncan in 2003) Kawhi, as the new franchise cornerstone, needed to start doing Tim Duncan-like things such as closing out hard-fought tough playoff series on the road. In Game 6 on Thursday night, The Klaw did exactly that. Down seven, 88-81, in the Grind House (about as hostile an environment as exists) with 6:28 to play and the Grizzlies playing for their playoff lives, Whi not take the game over? Leonard impressed his will in Memphis with such blunt force, the aftershocks are still resonating on Beale street four days later. After the Spurs had fallen behind by seven (and with Memphis building momentum in uniform motion), Kawhi countered with eight points, two rebounds, two assists, and a crucial steal down the stretch to lead the charge in closing out the Grizzlies. It was another masterful MVP performance by the Spurs’ new franchise cornerstone that seemed eerily similar to the types of performances in closeout games that we routinely saw for years from the old one. Leonard finished his Game 6 chef d’oeuvre with 29 points (8-19 from the field and 12-13 from the line), nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals. The question now, heading into the Western Conference Semifinals, is, “Does a force exist in the NBA that can be impressed upon Kawhi to compel a slowdown of his uniform motion assent to ‘best player in the world’ status?” Based on the evidence that’s been provided so far by the 2017 NBA playoffs, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Force is equal to the change in momentum per change in time. For a constant mass, force equals mass times acceleration. Heading into this year’s playoffs, many of the “experts” predicted that 34 year old Tony Parker was washed up and that the oldest starting point guard in the Western Conference would be a limiting force on the Spurs’ chances of making a deep postseason run. The assumption was that time and a depreciation of momentum during the regular season would prevent the 16 year veteran from being a force in these playoffs. Once again on Thursday night, the timeless Parker showed why opponents and “experts” alike who underestimate a four-time NBA champion simply because of his age, do so at their own peril. TP went off for 27 points (11-14 from the field, 1-2 from deep, 4-4 from the line), four assists, and two of the most cold blooded dagger jumpers you’d ever want to see en route to player of the game honors. Has time changed Tony’s momentum? Of course but the reason he’s still able to be a force when it matters most is that Coach Pop and the San Antonio Spurs understand the science of aging better than any other team in the NBA. The thing the “experts” couldn’t understand when they made their naive predictions that Tony would be a liability for the #BlackAndSilver in these playoffs is that Tony’s mental mastery of the game of basketball is a constant and Coach Pop knew exactly how to pace him physically during the regular season so that he could accelerate in these playoffs and return to being the force we’re accustomed to him being as a playoff performer. In case the “experts” need reminding, Tony Parker is the active leader in playoff games played and 6th all-time at 219 games and counting. This man, better than anyone else in these playoffs, knows how to be a force on a title contender. Either that or in his free time, TP must moonlight as an airpot express shuttle driver based on the way he showed up at the Grizzlies door step and rushed them off to vacation with this shot…
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So now it’s on to battle the Rockets and guess what, Houston…you have a problem. Longtime Spurs fans have not forgotten. And rest assured we’re still thirsty for revenge. That’s right, we’ve been waiting patiently for 22 years to get a shot at redemption for the 1995 Western Conference Finals. Don’t think for a second that this Spurs lifer has forgotten what it felt like to be a heart-broken 16 year old San Antonio fan after losing that series. To say I’m looking forward to a rematch that’s been over two decades in the making would be an understatement. It is actually quite remarkable that the Rockets never played the Spurs in the playoffs once during the 19 year Tim Duncan-era. Of course, the Spurs won 35 playoff series during that span compared to the Rockets only winning three. Really, Houston? Only three measly playoff series won in 19 years? Suffice it to say, the Rockets didn’t exactly hold up their end of the bargain in giving us the opportunity for a rematch during Timmy’s career. It’s a shame, too, because after unleashing Hakeem Olajuwon – the greatest player in Rockets’ franchise history – on us in the 1995 series, the polite thing to do would have been to allow us the opportunity to return the favor by giving Tim Duncan – our greatest player in franchise history – at least one crack at them. But, unfortunately, like an overmatched boxer who landed one lucky knockout punch to grab the title from an historic heavy weight, Houston was no where to be found to grant the rematch during the entirety of Timmy’s legendary career. For those who can remember, the storyline coming out of the 1995 Western Conference Finals, after Houston defeated San Antonio 4-2, was that Houston’s Olajuwon had outplayed that year’s league MVP (and Duncan’s future teammate) David Robinson. In fact, the most iconic example of Hakeem’s Dream Shake and probably the most replayed move of his career came against Robinson in that series. Houston may have been able to successfully duck and hide from Tim Duncan for 19 years but (as we learned earlier in this post) the science of statistical inevitability suggests that eventually the Rockets were going to have to allow the Spurs an opportunity to respond to the humiliating and humbling defeat handed to us by Dream and Clutch City in 1995. That opportunity finally begins tonight. The science that should have Rockets fans most fearful at the moment, however, is Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The stage is set for this series to play out as an equal and opposite reaction to the 1995 series. It is safe to assume that Rockets point guard James Harden is the frontrunner to win the 2017 NBA MVP. However, not only is Kawhi Leonard a better basketball player than Harden…I have no shortage of confidence that Leonard will prove it by outplaying Harden en route to defeating the Rockets in this series. So in essence, Kawhi outplaying and eliminating this year’s likely MVP could prove be the Spurs equal and opposite reaction to Hakeem outplaying and eliminating Robinson during the Admiral’s MVP season. Being a lifelong defender and practitioner of science, I’m just going where the evidence leads me. Of course, the “experts” have different designs on this series. The trendy “expert” prediction that’s been popping up left and right on the internet these past few days is Rockets in 6. Unfortunately, while handsomely paid, these “experts” in the mainstream media never seem to learn their lesson when it comes to predicting a matchup between a Gregg Popovich coached Spurs team and a high octane offense / mediocre defense Mike D’Antoni coached team. Three times this has happened in the past and all three times the “experts” in the mainstream media were backtracking faster than Amar’e Stoudemire and our good friend Boris Diaw after a Robert Horry hip check. Coach Pop is a master at devising a game plan to disrupt the head of the snake in a D’Antoni offense during a playoff series. He did it three times to two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and I expect nothing but the same for likely first-time MVP James Harden. So go ahead and make your Rockets in 6 predictions, “experts.” I’ll just continue laughing them off. In the end, science always wins the day even if it means you have to come to grips with the unfortunate reality that a part-time blogger (with an unrelated full-time career) may be able to do your job (on the side) as well or better than you do. My songs bump in Houston like Scarface produced ’em. You ain’t gotta like me, you just mad cause I tell it how it is and you tell it how it might be. As for the Houston Rockets, tonight we will finally welcome you to the playoffs in San Antonio for the first time since Gregg Popovich took over as coach. We are no longer the feisty little brother that Hakeem Olajuwon easily brushed aside en route to Houston’s second and last championship. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve raised five banners of our own since then. So, welcome to the playoffs in San Antonio for the first time in the AT&T Center, Houston. In other words, welcome to the playoffs in San Antonio for the first time since the Spurs became the Spurs. Welcome to Titletown, TX. Welcome to the jungle.
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