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Monday, May 28, 2012

NBA Playoffs: San Antonio Spurs not flashy, just fundamental

Welcome back, fans. It has been a nine month hiatus since my last post, and for that I apologize.

The NBA playoffs are now down to their version of the final four, and in the west, there couldn't be two more contrasting styles of ball.

On the one hand you have the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by the high octane offense of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And the passionate play of sixth man of the year James Harden and center Kendrick Perkins

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is the San Antonio Spurs, 101-98 winners of last night's game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. They aren't flashy, as you more than likely won't see them on a ESPN Sportscenter highlight reel. The Spurs big three, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, are as humble a trio you'll find in the league, each deferring to the other during post game interviews. And to round out the team you will find role players like Thiago Splitter, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner, guys who might not make the starting rosters of half the teams in the NBA this season, yet who are essential to the Spurs starting the playoffs 9-0 and two series away from their fifth championship in franchise history.

That's right folks. Of the remaining four teams, the one that fans, media, coaches, and even other players don't want to see win it all isn't the Miami Heat. Not by a long shot. No that would be the Spurs. A team that plays a brand of ball that is as drab as some as the black and white uniforms they wear. Whose star players have personalities as about exciting as their head coach, Greg Poppovich, who can be seen walking the sidelines with the same stoic expression whether San Antonio is winning or losing. Maybe one day after he has retired from the game 'Pop' as his players call him will enter the World Series of Poker.

Yet of all the four teams remaining, the San Antonio Spurs are also the ones I'll be rooting for to cut down the nets next month. In this day and age where it seems basketball, especially at the professional level, has become a collection of one on one battles, the Spurs still play the game the way it was designed to be played. As a team. The spread the ball around the court, looking for the best available shot. They play team defense, not measured by the number of blocks or steals they garner, but rather by rebounding and taking away their opponents' path to the basket.  And, last night's game notwithstanding, they understand that limiting turnovers goes a long way to winning a basketball game.

So the Spurs, just like their big man, Tim Duncan, aka 'Big Fundamental,' play fundamentally sound team basketball. So what? Flashy is in. Rim shaking dunks and blocked shots are what make the NBA fun to watch, right? That is what is wrong with the game, however. Fundamentally sound basketball is now a punchline, rather than something that gets proper attention. Of course a thunderous dunk every now and then is exciting, but  how about going back to the other end of the court to play defense once in a while? How about making free throws in the crucial moments of the game rather than complain about officiating?

And teams from other leagues can learn from the Spurs as well. The NFL is a prime example. Guys like James Harrison and Brandon Merriweather can complain all day long the league is out to get them, yet at the end of the day if they practiced fundamentally sound tackling there wouldn't be an issue. Proper form tacking requires the defender to wrap the guy with two arms, his head up, driving his shoulder into the offensive player. How hard is that? The kind of thing they taught me in middle school football over 20 years ago.

So while the rest of the nation(save for the city of San Antonio) roots for OKC vs Miami, I will be quitely hoping the Spurs' big three get what could be their last chance for a championship.