It was expected the Western Conference Finals would be a classic battle, so it was a surprise to see the San Antonio Spurs down nine heading into the fourth quarter of Game 1 at home.
During a TV timeout late in the game, sideline microphones picked up Gregg Popovich imploring his team to, “get a little nasty.”
After his veteran team had coughed the ball up 15 times in the first half – they were third in the NBA this season and only averaged 13.5 turnovers – something seemed to click for the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter. They opened the quarter on a 33-18 run and finished with a 39-27 advantage.
If that’s not nasty, I don’t know what is.
But here’s the thing: the Spurs have been nasty all season. It’s not like they flipped the switch all of a sudden during the fourth quarter of the Conference Finals. They had the best record in the Western Conference, they are currently in the midst of a 19-game winning streak, Tony Parker was an MVP candidate and Tim Duncan has found the fountain of youth in the playoffs.
Still, fans and a large contingent of the media continue to sleep on the Spurs. Why? Because they aren’t flashy. They don’t have players popping up on TMZ for indiscretions off of the court and they aren’t seen yelling on ESPN or Sportsnet after dunks.
Heck, they don’t even have players showing up in commercials hawking shoes or soft drinks.
All they do is win.
“I heard we were dead,” Duncan recently joked with a reporter.
Not dead, but “old” like your coach joked when he submitted the official reason why you were sitting out a game back in March. And, for the current twenty-something generation, old means boring.
Still, despite being on his death bed, Duncan is dragging his “old” body up and down the court while averaging 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in the playoffs.
The other old guy on the roster, Manu Ginobili, is rocking a solar panel on the back of his head while taking the NBA’s current sixth man of the year, James Harden, to school.
Twitter exploded during Game 1 with jokes that Harden should lend Ginobili some hair from his beard for his bald spot, but the sneaky Euro got the last laugh as he exploded for 26 points in only 34 minutes off the bench.
Plus, Ginobili was a key part of San Antonio’s surge in the fourth quarter that put the dagger into the hearts of the Thunder.
Harden, meanwhile, had a brutal game as he went 7-17 from the field.
Parker, not to be ignored, is averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists. His biggest contribution has been on the defensive end as he has frustrated Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
The heart of the Spurs, Popovich, is putting his counterpart, Scott Brooks to shame. During a pivotal stretch to start the fourth quarter, San Antonio went on a 18-5 run, yet Brooks failed to call a single timeout during that run.
Popovich was in rare form calling out his players to be more nasty, getting timeouts at key moments and maximizing matchups on the court.
It’s a shame that fans don’t appreciate the greatness of this Spurs franchise over the past decade But, as Popovich begged his team to do, the Spurs are willing to get a little nasty and gritty on the court if it helps them win a Championship. Who cares if it’s not flashy? Not the Spurs, because they are content with the shine that comes from winning, not from the media glare.
And, along the way, the Spurs are showing that even old guys can get nasty once in awhile.