Looking back at the San Antonio Spurs 2012-13 season, Spurs fans left contemplating a few of the same questions that they were pondering at the end of last season. This season provided us with another winning regular season and a deep run in the playoffs.
The campaign was a tale of two seasons.
The regular season showed us what we have been accustomed to seeing, a complete team lead by the 'Big 3,” of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, where no one is bigger than the team. Along with the commitment shown by the "Big 3”, there was also the same commitment by the supporting players to be ready to pick up the slack when the "Big 3” missed time with various injuries or needed to get the rest for the playoffs, as was evident during the “Rest-gate” game. The bench showed that they were more that capable of competing with the defending NBA Champions.
This season also brought the emergence/taking the next step in their game by Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter gave Spurs’ fans glimpses of who could be stepping in the "Big 3” shoes of Duncan and Ginobili. Throughout the season, each of the three stepped up to the plate and carried the offensive load when the situation arose.
Cory Joseph appeared to take control of the backup point guard role in critical situations when Parker was resting on the bench.
As the playoffs approached, the Spurs ended Stephen Jackson’s second tour with the Spurs. While the release was not a surprise, the timing was. No attempt was made to get something of value in return before the trade deadline.
Going in to the playoffs the team was prepared, as the number two seed, to take the next step and finish off the job that was left incomplete during the Western Conference Finals last season versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 2013 NBA Playoffs started off in a similar manner as the 2012 Playoffs. The Spurs swept through the first round versus the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers.
Next were the Golden State Warriors with “the best shooting backcourt in history” (according to Mark Jackson). They showed how the Spurs were susceptible to the great to perimeter shooting team. The Spurs, with their vast playoff experience, were able to corral the streak shooting enough to gain a 4-2 series victory.
In a return trip to the Western Conference finals, the Spurs, with their playoff experience, ran through the Memphis Grizzlies on a way to a 4-0 series sweep and a week-long rest before facing the Eastern Conference Championship.
This leads us to the NBA Finals match up versus the Miami Heat.
For the Spurs, this playoff run ended in a similar manner as last year’s. The "Big 3” fought hard to carry the team and keep the Spurs in the series with help from role players (Leonard, Neal, and Green) in the first 5 game of the Finals. They hit their open looks, made the critical stops on the defensive end and allowed “the Big 3” to save their energy for the fourth quarter. During Games 6 and 7, the only role player that came to play was Kawhi Leonard, possibly cementing his role in the "Big 3” version 2.0 alongside Tony Parker. Similar to last year’s Western Conference, the rest of the team stopped hitting shots that they were knocking down throughout the regular season and the playoff run. The lack of production caused Coach Popovich to shorten his rotation and rely more heavily on his core players. This absence left a large portion offensive burden on the shoulders of the "Big 3” and Leonard.
Looking back at the playoffs, the Westbrook injury may have hurt the Spurs as much as it did the Thunder. With a rematch versus the Thunder could have resulted in more competitive games, where the role players saw more crunch time minutes and built their confidence for the NBA Finals. They need to find a way to maintain their confidence during the most critical series. They showed in the regular season they could hang with the Heat without the "Big 3”.
So Spurs’ fans do you view the 2012-2013 season as a step forward or as an example of not learning from lessons from last season for the role players?