It’s incredibly early to be talking about things like this, but if the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA title, there’s a good chance “I want some nasty” will be the first sound bite you hear from any highlight package, Sports Illustrated video. Hell, it was a shirt less than 10 hours after the game ended.
Shortly after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made his “nasty declaration” he also inserted Stephen Jackson in the lineup to check Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant. Durant had just finished an eight point third quarter that was just disastrous for the Spurs. Jackson came in, got “nasty” and limited Durant to just two shot attempts in the fourth quarter (though he did send him to the line three times because of some overly nasty defense). After the game, Jackson explained what Pop’s words before the fourth meant to him (thanks to Project Spurs’ own Paul Garcia for the Jack audio).
“When he said that he wants us to go out and be physical, go out and leave it all on the court,” Jackson said. “Play hard, be a teammate, back your teammates up and that’s all he meant. He didn’t mean go out there and be dirty, he didn’t mean go out there and disrespect the team. He meant go out there and give it your all.”
I think it might’ve been Steve Kerr who said the Spurs may have had Durant in mind when they traded for Jackson. The last thing I want to do is turn this in to a Jackson vs. Richard Jefferson, but neither Jefferson and Kawhi Leonard are suited to defend Durant. As Coach Pop pointed after the game, it’s almost impossible to guard Durant, but Jackson made a name for himself post “Malice in the Palace” for playing tough, in your face, annoying defense. That is neither Jefferson nor Leonard’s game. It’s not Jefferson’s because when he was younger he relied on his length and athleticism to defend other guys and really was never an elite defender. By the time he got to San Antonio, he was an average to above average defender, but certainly not one of the tough nosed variety. Leonard could very easily become that type of guy, he just never had to before this season. His hustle and willingness to dive for loose balls, jump balls, etc. shows he has the mentality to become a Jackson like defender in terms of grittiness.
Thinking long term here that may be Jack’s biggest impact on his second go around for the Spurs, helping turn Kawhi’s defense from Bruce Banner in to the Hulk. The gifts and smarts are there, he just needs to learn how to be aggressive in that way Jack has kept guys like Dirk Nowitzki off their game for an entire series. Jackson said after Game One that he and Manu were the Danny Ferry and Steve Kerr of this year’s Spurs team. This is A: hilarious and B: important because it shows Jackson is willing to be a role player on this Spurs team. It also makes think of Jackson wearing Ferry’s clothes and vice versa. Or Ferry firing a gun in to the air outside a club. Or Jackson golfing. Or Ferry recording a mix-tape. You get the idea. Point is, Pop wants some nasty and Stephen Jackson is the perfect guy to bring some nasty to this series.