The NBA playoffs will expose you. The rigor of the multiple game series takes its toll on teams — contenders and pretenders alike. Fortunes change like the wind, and by the conference finals, the difference between winning and losing usually comes down to star power.
Consistent executions of the game plan and total team efforts are hard to come by as the dog days of May and June suck the energy from existing squads.
As San Antonio once again proved, games are often won and lost on the heroic and historic individual performances of NBA greats. The difference between these cats and other pros is the way they elevate in crunch time.
When Memphis was making its run to the Western Conference Finals, the dominant inside presence of “Bash Brothers” Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol was the difference. Memphis’ uncontainable frontcourt had overwhelmed an athletically superior Clippers team and crushed an undermanned OKC squad.
The Grizzlies seemed to have a perfect mix of interior illness, timely outside shooting and backcourt consistency. As the playoffs wore on, the Bash Brothers emerged as big-boy bombers who were elite throwback post performers. Their brutish and back-to-the-rim style of play resembled a fading NBA philosophy and challenged the contemporary styles of their competitors.
Some folks wondered if Memphis could win playing “from the inside out,” and the Grizzlies' success in the first two rounds gave no reason to bet against them. However, when it came down to it, style didn’t dictate the outcome of the Spurs surprising 4-0 sweep of the Grizzlies. Star power did.
Both teams stayed true to their strengths. Memphis tried to pound and feed the beast. The Spurs played their usual brand of “Popovich” ball — designed around “The Big Three.” In the end, Memphis proved to have a “very good” basketball team with no true superstars to stop the series from getting out of control.
When you allow a championship-laced squad like San Antonio to sniff the finish line, the inevitable outcome is the kill.
Randolph has been doggedly consistent this year, but he picked the wrong series to go into a slump. Gasol didn’t provide much relief as he was ghost on offense and his vaunted defensive skills were mostly rendered obsolete.
When the call for a hero went out, Memphis didn’t have the individual game-wreckers to get the job done. The looks of dejection, helplessness and bewilderment on the Grizzlies faces said it all.
The reason anyone thought the WCFs would be worth the cost of admission in the first place is that the Spurs have shown signs of age deterioration over the past few seasons and looked like an easy vic; but they emphatically put an end to that talk.
Tim Duncan proved he could still turn it up. Tony Parker’s Game 4 performance was legendary, as he scorched Memphis for 37 points. Only two players in the last fifty years — MJ (45 points in ’96) and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (38 points in ’74) — have scored more points in a conference finals-clinching road game.
"Since last year, I promised Tim (Duncan) we would go back to the Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing," Parker said after the game.” We win the West and now one more step. It's the hardest one."
Now that we know the Spurs have chip juice left in them, the battle against (probable opponent) Miami becomes more intriguing. The outcome will either be a riveting upset or an official changing of the guard.
If the Spurs win, it will be another accomplishment for one of the greatest threesomes in NBA history. If Miami goes back-to-back, we will see the official arrival of the new “Big Three Dynasty.”