North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘San Antonio Spurs

Elsewhere: My 2015 NBA Playoff Diaries

This spring, I’ve been writing occasional NBA Playoff Diaries for Flagrant Fowls. Here’s a complete list of them, all in one space!

Playoff Diary #1: Baller Alerts (On following the Raptors/Wizards series through Twitter updates)

Playoff Diary #2: Spirit of the Radio (On listening to game seven of the Clippers/Spurs series on the radio)

Playoff Diary #3: The Wild, Weird West (On a wild Clippers/Rockets second-round series)

Playoff Diary #4: I Hate Injuries! (How the Atlanta Hawks postseason was derailed by injuries)

Playoff Diary #5: Looking Forward, Looking Back (NBA Finals Preview)

2015 NBA Playoff Picks – First Round

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It’s spring and this is something of an annual tradition around here! Picks and series thoughts after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Basketball Hangover

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It’s been hot here lately, maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling so lethargic w/r/t summing up my thoughts on the NBA Finals. It’s not hard to compress things into a few sentences, but still: a lot happened over the seven games and there’s a few things I want to cover.

Games six and seven were two of the most intense games I’ve seen live. They were easily the most exciting games of this year’s postseason and I can’t remember too many others that gave me the same emotions: game seven of the 2010 Finals immediately comes to mind, as does game five of the 2005 Finals. I don’t bring this up to make some Simmons-esque  point about legacy or how I’ll remember things in five years time, but to say this was a hell of a series. It was intense, even for someone who didn’t have anything riding on it; bad enough I had to switch to the radio for game six because I was getting so wound up in the fourth that I knew I wouldn’t get to sleep if I didn’t.

Going into the series, I picked the Spurs to win in six. I was off by a bit, but I’ll get to that in a second. I picked them for a few reasons: rest, their defence, the play of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in the postseason. Conversely, I wasn’t high on the way Miami had looked against Indiana: Bosh and Wade struggled against a strong defensive team and LeBron James seemed like he getting flustered by carrying the team.

The Finals started in this vein, with the Spurs defence coming up huge late and Parker hitting a crazy game winning shot in game one. It was another game where James was amazing – 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists – but at least Bosh and Wade scored in the double-digit range. Game two was a Miami blowout, although it was pretty close even going into the fourth quarter, before Miami went on a run and took a big lead.

Before long, each team was trading blowouts. San Antonio took game three and Miami game four, each by wide margins. The Spurs had good nights from role players like Danny Green and Gary Neal; Miami’s big three combined for 85 points in their win. Game five was a little closer: a ten-point Spurs win, on Manu Ginobili’s big night (24 points, 10 assists). At this point, each team was winning every other game. People in the media were saying it was unlike anything they’d ever seen, although it reminded me of an Atlanta/Milwaukee series from a few years back. The Spurs were in position to win the Finals in six games as the series moved back to Miami.

They came close, really damn close. They led late, by five points with 28 seconds left. Tim Duncan had arguably his best career game: 30 points, 17 rebounds against a stifling Miami defence. And the Spurs played with a remarkably short roster: four players would finish the game with over 40 minutes played and just nine checked in at all (including a ten second stretch for Matt Bonner). But LeBron had one of his best nights, too: 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and the nerve to take three different three pointers in the last 30 seconds. That’ll be my lasting memory: listening to him take those shots on TSN Radio’s scratchy broadcast sometime around midnight on a Wednesday am.

What about game seven? Well, what do ya need to know. It was close and Duncan just about tied it up late. It was intense and I felt glad I didn’t have any professional obligations to cover the game. It reminded me of the time I interviewed Roger Lajoie: he told me the worst event he ever covered was game seven of the 2001 World Series. He was writing for Reuters then, working as their main sports guy. He told me he had to write, erase and re-write his story three, four times as the game swung back and forth. And because he was writing for a wire service, he had to get it out there was soon as he could, going against the AP. Game seven was one of those games, close enough that had Duncan hit that basket, you’d have heard hundreds of columnists slamming their delete key into oblivion.

People are going to try to spin these finals into a greater narrative. It’s one of those sportswriting tricks everyone falls into now and again. Maybe this will be The Last Gasp of the Spurs Dynasty (is this it for Manu? I’d be surprised if he left the NBA but I doubt he’s got much left in the tank either). Maybe it’ll be The Time LeBron Shed His Labels (a stupid idea: he’s been unquestionably the best player in the league for at least four years now). It might have something to do with Kawhi Leonard or Chris Bosh, each resting at the opposite ends of Expectation and Results: 19 points and zero, respectively, in the final game.

But it doesn’t have to be put into anything. It was just a damn fine series: seven good games and at least three I know I’ll be thinking about all summer. It had two of the best players of their generation playing at the highest level; it had a few players standing out beyond what anyone expected, too. I have a bit of a basketball hangover right now – I don’t plan on watching anything, even highlights, until sometime in July – but the nights were worth it.

A Quick NBA Finals Prediction

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Last week, I wrote about the Western Conference champs and a few days ago, about the Miami Heat going to a game seven, so I’ve already written a bunch about the Finals already. But here’s a few more loose thoughts and a prediction for the Finals, which start tonight.

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Not the Finals we expected, but that’s cool

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At year’s start, I’m not sure anyone would’ve guessed San Antonio would be the team to come out of the Western Conference. Even at the start of March, I doubt many thought the Miami Heat would be tested so hard by Indiana. And as the Finals gear up, this is not the outcome anybody expected. And it’s probably the best outcome we could’ve hoped for.

All the way back in November, the smart money was on the LA Lakers to win the West. They’d taken an already talented team – Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, etc – and augmented it. Steve Nash was the point guard who’d mesh with Bryant, freeing him from bringing the ball up court and directing play. And Dwight Howard was the center that Andrew Bynum was always supposed to be. Concerns? No way! As Sports Illustrated said on their cover, “This is going to be fun!”

It was fun, just not in Los Angeles

But what happened wasn’t much fun. Nash, who struggled with injuries when surrounded by the best training staff in the NBA, was hurt and played in just 50 games. When he did play, he was nowhere near as effective: his scoring dropped to under 13 points per game while his assist numbers, long his bread and butter, fell through the floor. It’s almost as if Bryant is a playmaker himself and best functions when he can dictate the offence, usually through the triangle.

Howard, meanwhile, struggled in his role. He scored fewer points per game than he had since 2005-06. His rebounding numbers were almost as bad: the lowest since 2007. Even his PER – a stat all but tailored to big men like himself – plummeted down to 19.4, his lowest in years. And how, it looks like Howard’s ready to leave. Bill Simmons went on at length about this, especially about Howard’s decline. I’m inclined to agree: he was a tremendous bust this season, all things considered. The Lakers lucked into the postseason, scraping in as Utah fell apart in the late part of last season. They fired a coach, seem likely to let another go soon and were soundly swept by San Antonio in the first round. Do people still think the SI Jinx is a thing?

If you didn’t have the Lakers, you probably had Oklahoma City getting to the Finals. It wasn’t a bad risk: they had the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, both of whom were both some of the best players in the NBA and still improving. And they did have a very good season winning 60 games, their division and holding the top seed in the conference. And then, in game two of their first round series, Russell Westbrook hurt his knee and was done for the playoffs. Without him, Oklahoma City roughed out a series win against Houston and fell in five games to Memphis. There goes another Smart Pick.

So it’s been San Antonio who slugged it out through the postseason. After sweeping the Lakers, they slipped past Golden State in a pretty fun series, especially the double OT game one thriller which I’ll probably rewatch next time it’s replayed on NBA TV. In the conference finals, they swept Memphis in a series I bet most people won’t really think about much, other then to call it ugly. It’s too bad: two games went to OT, one of them featuring an insane Memphis comeback, and game four was pretty close, too.

If Miami gets past Indiana, as I hope they do, it’ll set up one hell of a NBA Finals: the closest thing to a real dynasty the NBA has had in years against the a new style of dynasty; the best player of one generation (Duncan) playing the best player of another (LeBron James); the team everyone likes to hate because they’re “boring” playing the team everyone likes to hate because of the way they came together.

It’s the best Finals we could’ve hoped for: there’s real storylines here, not the kind TV producers would’ve kicked up for a OKC/Miami series. There’s the idea of generational conflicts, or at least the kind that happen in pro sports. There’s Gregg Popovich going for his fifth championship, which puts him in the same class as people like Pat Reilly, Red Auerbach and John Kundla. I haven’t been as excited for a series all through these playoffs. I hope you’re feeling the same way.

Written by M.

May 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

2013 NBA Playoff Picks, Round One

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Every year I like to make wild and baseless predictions on the NBA playoffs. Usually they’re on Twitter or something, but I wanted to write a few words on each series this time.

Eastern Conference

1. Heat vs 8. Bucks

Probably not a series that’ll last more than five games. It’s cool how the Bucks snuck into the playoffs while being six games under .500 while out west, while two .500 teams were left out of the playoffs. I expect this one to be over in a hurry. Heat in four.

2. Knicks vs. 7. Celtics

Is Boston/New York a NBA rivalry? I don’t think so, but ESPN and some other places are really hammering at it so who knows, maybe a bunch of people will whip themselves into a petulant frenzy over this series. Again, this is another one that could be over quick: Boston is an aging team that’ll rely a lot on Kevin Garnett and they’re missing Rondo, easily their best player. But New York is also banged up (they’ve got five probables for game one), missing Amare Stoudemire and will be relying hard on Carmelo Anthony. If Boston can keep him under control (and I can see that happening), Boston might be able to squeak this out. Still, I think this is the Knicks series to lose. Knicks in six.

3. Pacers vs 6. Hawks

The Pacers are a tough, defensively minded team that plays an agressive, physical style of basketball. They had the closest thing to a full-on brawl I saw this season and don’t look now, but Roy Hibbert is quickly becoming one of the better young centers in the NBA. And Paul George is a beast, too. Meanwhile, I’m not big on Atlanta: Josh Smith is a gunner (last year in the playoffs he was taking something like 18 shots a game) and Al Horford is another good young center (I’m looking forward to seeing him and Hibbert go at each other, actually) but I like the Pacers a lot in this series. My gut tells me it’ll be ugly, but compelling. Pacers in five.

4. Nets vs 5. Bulls

Two fun-to-watch teams who match up well. First, their SRS are right around each other and second, their defences/offensive ratings make for an interesting match: Chicago’s offence is 23rd in the league, Brooklyn’s defence is 17th; Brooklyn’s offence is eighth, Chicago’s defence is sixth. I do think Chicago has it’s flaws (they’re missing Derrick Rose for sure and maybe Joakim Noah) but they have bright spots, like Carlos Boozer (who I wrote about in January) and Jimmy Butler. The Nets, meanwhile, are great inside (Brook Lopez) and out (Deron Williams) and might make quick work of Chicago. On paper, this could be a close series but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets tore things up early and often. Nets in five.

Western Conference

1.Thunder vs 8. Rockets

Are the Thunder the best team in the NBA? Well, no, that’s Miami, but they’re a close second. In most years, Kevin Durant’s 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game (not to mention nearly 19 Win Shares) would be enough for serious MVP consideration. It’s only because Miami has been so damn good that he isn’t. I do like some of the subplots to this series – James Harden takes on his old team, will Jeremy Lin explode in the postseason, etc – but let’s be real here: the question is only how many games it’ll take the Thunder to win four and they’ll do it quickly. Thunder in five.

2.Spurs vs 7. Lakers

One the fun end-of-year stories was seeing the Lakers go on a late tear and make the playoffs. It’s too bad it was derailed when Kobe Bryant went down last weekend. True, they still have Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. But San Antonio has Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. Without Bryant, this one will be over in a hurry. Spurs in four.

3.Nuggets vs 6. Warriors

This’ll probably be the most fun series of the first round: the Nuggets are a blast to watch, score like it’s nobody’s business and have one of the most enjoyable players in the NBA, JaVale McGee. Golden State scores a bunch, too (seventh in the NBA for points-per-game) and Stephen Curry is jacking up 18 shots per game (I expect this will only go up, too). This series will be worth staying up late for and I expect at least one wild shootout. But who will win? I’m going with what I want to see and that’s more McGee. Nuggets in seven.

4.Clippers vs. 5. Memphis

Remember when the Clippers were lob city and everyone loved to watch their sweet jams? And then Blake Griffin started becoming a little unbearable and the team started flopping often and everyone I know turned on them. They’re still a good team on both ends of the floor and Chris Paul is a dark horse for the MVP (one could make a case for him over Durant) but they’re awfully hard to cheer for. Memphis, though, is a legitimately fun team: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are fun to watch and Ed Davis was my favorite Raptor (and I hope he tears shit up in the postseason). And for what it’s worth, they have the best defensive numbers in the NBA. I think they have a great shot at this one: if they can contain Paul, the Clippers are a lot less dangerous. Grizzlies in six.