After going down 3 games to 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in this year’s Western Conference semifinals, questions are being fired at the silver and black that are rare.
Leading 2-1 in the series after three games, the vaunted Spurs have lost two straight and are one defeat away from exiting this postseason. The Spurs were supposedly the most complete team in the playoffs, having the personnel to be able to shoot with the shooters, bang with the bangers and run with the runners. In addition, Coach Pop is the undisputed coaching guru of the NBA these days.
But things aren’t going as planned in San Antonio. In years past, it was always about a team jelling around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. With the addition of highly-coveted free agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge and the emergence of two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, it was believed that the mantle of leadership and productivity had made a smooth transition from the aging Big Three to the young Big Two.
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Danny Green and Patty Mills were expected to provide some timely shooting. Throw in the arrival of veteran power forward David West and proven NBA scorer Kevin Martin, and it is easy to see why many believed that the only team in the National Basketball Association that stood a chance at dethroning the Golden State Warriors were the Spurs.
But after soundly defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, the Spurs are fighting just to stay alive.
Aldridge was averaging nearly 40 points per game over the first two games against OKC, and Leonard was frustrating Kevin Durant, making him look about as regular as a hot dog with no mustard on a slice of government bread. But props go out to OKC head coach Billy Donovan, who had been getting tons of criticism throughout the regular season for his lack of emphasis on the defensive end and his seeming inability to rein in Russell Westbrook.
But his Game 3 adjustment of sitting Serge Ibaka and inserting big man Steven Adams into the starting lineup has paid off. His hands-on approach to guarding Aldridge resulted in the Spurs power forward seemingly worrying more about bracing for Adams’ physicality rather than simply playing.
Additionally, both Aldridge and Leonard have come up short in the 4th quarter of each of the prior three contests. For their part, Adams and Enes Kanter have were responsible for helping the Thunder out-rebound the Spurs 54 to 36, with 15 offensive boards among them.
(Photo Credit: NBA.com)
Durant erupted in Game 4 for 41 points and it was only apropos that Russell Westbrook would eventually follow in kind, which he did with 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in Game 5.
Even the once guaranteed heady and steady play of Tony Parker has been iffy. Down the stretch of the 4th quarter of Game 5, Parker missed multiple shots after the 2-minute mark, including a shot that could have tied the game and a free throw with under a minute left. Manu Ginobili, who series high was scoring 11 points in Game 2, has done absolutely nothing this entire series.
Right now I’m looking at Tim Duncan like "Damn, homie. In ’08 you was the man, homie!
Timmy is merely looking like a sliver of his former, dominant self. He averaged 8.6 points and seven rebounds during the regular season, but his value this year was really on the defensive end, where he still played like one of the league's best post defenders. Some fans may have expected that he would spring back to life on the offensive end in the postseason, recalling the manner in which he balled in the Spurs’ first round matchup versus the Los Angeles Clippers last year with 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.
But not this time around. Plainly put, he's too much of a liability on the offensive end against the Thunder.
Many successful teams have an in-house a*shole. Draymond Green play that role with the Golden State Warriors. These personality types are just as likely to get on teammates for dragging it as they are for getting in the faces of the opponents. Perhaps it is by design, but the Spurs are sorely lacking in that department.
Could it be that a certain level of volatility is an important catalyst on an NBA championship team? On Thursday, the San Antonio Spurs will be fighting for their playoff lives and are in real danger of being eliminated prior to the Western Conference for the second season in a row.