So how many of you penciled in the San Antonio Spurs as NBA champs back in December?
Yeah. Me, neither.
After beating the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, the Spurs took a 3-0 playoff series lead. Looking back, it makes a certain sense: With the lockout cramming 66 games into 123 days, the logical survivor was the team with the best coach and the most established core.
Practice was a rarity this NBA season and its not like Tim Duncan, 36, was going to practice a lot anyway. Is there really anything Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili dont know about each other after 10 shared seasons? Gregg Popovich has been coach for that span and longer, and theres a stability about the Spurs that sets the standard in the NBA, if not all sports.
The scary thing if youre the Clippers or the Oklahoma City Thunder is Duncan looks and sounds 25 again. The former Wake Forest star is in his 15th NBA season and has won four championships. Yet he seems anything but complacent or used-up.
I feel unbelievable, Duncan said recently. Better than I have in four or five years.
That prompted Parker to call Duncans postseason Vintage Timmy. Theres a comfort and a humor about this group that youve got to love, as in when Duncan sat out a regular-season game and Popovich listed his injury as too old.
The constancy of San Antonios Big Three allows Popovich to take chances with complementary parts. The Spurs picked up two ex-Bobcats, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, who were nonfactors in Charlotte and Milwaukee. Seemingly if you cant help the Bucks or the Bobcats, you cant help the Spurs, but these two blew up that thinking.
Jackson can make some jump shots off the bench when defenses invariably collapse on Duncan in the post. Diaw has played a larger role, ascending to be a starter. Strikingly, hes done great against Clippers superstar Blake Griffin.
We all know the deal on Diaw: Smart but stubborn. Gifted but overweight. He has a mercurial personality that irritated then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas to no end. A divorce was inevitable, and everyone was happier when Diaw and the Bobcats agreed to that buyout.
Was it a mistake when Silas gave up on Diaw? No. Diaw wasnt engaged by the process here. It made sense to hand his minutes to younger big men the last third of the season. He was sapping energy from that locker room with his unhappiness.
Yet Im hardly surprised he rehabilitated his reputation as a Spur. Its a well-established pattern: He left Atlanta for Phoenix and was renewed for a while. He left Phoenix for Charlotte and was renewed for a while. But remember that the player Diaw seems when he shows up is not the player you remember when he leaves.
The Spurs were an ideal fit: Diaw can be a smart, complementary player on a team full of basketball-savvy players. Also his best friend, fellow Frenchman Parker, keeps Diaw on task. Remember, Parker was the one who told French media one summer that the only reason for a national-team training camp was to get Diaw into shape.
With a coach like Pop, a star like Duncan and a point guard like Parker, this could be championship No. 5.
It would also be a victory for old guys everywhere: Sorry, kids; youll just have to wait your turn.