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Don’t Just Respect the Spurs, Enjoy Them
This started as a breakdown of what the Spurs did this summer and what we should expect from our Southwest division rivals this season. In the end, however, I decided to change the point of this post and say something I never thought I’d say:
I like the Spurs.
Two years ago, I would have admitted a grudging respect. After the playoffs in 2007-2008 and Horry’s take down of David West, the grudge definitely outweighed the respect. But somehow, since that excellent playoff series, my feelings for the the Spurs have morphed. Perhaps its because so many of my fondest memories of the Hornets are inextricably tied up with the Spurs: Paul smacking Bowen in the face in retaliation for his aggressiveness. Paul getting Bowen suspended. The Hornets racing out to a 2-0 lead in the 2008 playoffs 2nd round and seeming to be on top of the world. Paul leading the Hornets to their first win in years against the Spurs on the back of a triple double. Duncan telling Paul to “calm the f down.” Paul purposely tossing up a half-court heave as Ginobili fouled him near the end of a game to draw three free throws.
Most of those memories, of course, are tied to the Hornets besting the Spurs, usually at their own game. It’s not really surprising that they stick out, because any triumph over the best is, of course, that much sweeter, and the Spurs have been the best. For a decade the Spurs have made an art of playing a hard-nosed style of basketball seemingly designed to frustrate their opponent and, by extension, their fans. They are even-keeled, deliberate, and execute in the half-court with the efficiency of a guillotine. For years, however, those qualities have been applied to the Spurs in almost a negative light, combined with epithets like ‘boring’ or ‘uninspiring’.
That does a disservice to the Spurs. It masks the improvisational genius of Manu Ginobili, one of the most clever and entertaining shooting guards I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. It hides the fact that Tony Parker has developed into what we all wished Allen Iverson could have been: a combination of dazzling speed and finishing skill tempered with the sense to differentiate between a good or bad shot. Even the roleplayers for the Spurs have been different than the supporting casts you find elsewhere. The Spurs, when filling their roster, don’t care about how a player is perceived. They take players who excel at one, maybe two skills, and then find ways to use that skill. No one would call Matt Bonner a complete – or average – basketball player, but his shot is sweet, and the Spurs put him in position to use that skill. Bruce Bowen had two skills: harassment and a corner three – but he was successful and eventually notorious because the Spurs used and surrounded him with the pieces that allowed him to apply his hatchet with impunity. Their roster has been littered with these incomplete specialists, but all have been useful in their tenures; shooters like Kerr, Roger Mason, Bonner, and Old Finley. Defensive specialists like Bowen, Horry, Udoka(sorta) and now George Hill. Post energy guys like Oberto and Elson. All contribute – and many with unexpected impact.
I’ve even felt a bit of affection towards the old Warhorse, Tim Duncan. For a dozen years, Duncan has given the league and its fans steady excellence, if leavened with plenty of whiney faces. My appreciation of him is growing though, perhaps helped along because he’s finally showing signs of heading into his dotage.
It’s always easier to appreciate a rival when they aren’t tearing out your throat.
Popovich, R.C. Buford and the Spurs organization are smart and deliberate, like their team. They reloaded this summer, and will be making a run this year and the next, milking Timmy and Manu through their last years of high-level productivity. If you get the chance, watch, and enjoy them. I will be.
Starting opening night, when the Hornets destroy them.(Right?)