This feels eerily similar. Deja vu, maybe.
At about this time last year, the San Antonio Spurs had put the finishing touches on a nine-point home victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder then quickly dispatched of the Spurs' 10-game winning streak in four consecutive games.
Oklahoma City bottled up Tony Parker in the pick-and-roll, giving him little real estate in which to operate while staying home on the bevy of Spurs shooters. Parker averaged 19.3 points while shooting 41.2 percent from the field in the four losses. The problems were residual — with Parker limited by Thabo Sefolosha, Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal were innocent bystanders on the perimeter. No penetration means no space, and no space means no points.
This time around, the Spurs hold a 2-0 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. Things are different. Green hasn't disappeared. Memphis adjusted and squelched Bonner in Game 2, but his 12 points on four 3-pointers on Sunday incited a lengthy piece from Grantland's Zach Lowe. Kawhi Leonard is playing more this postseason — it's probably premature but his efficacy on both ends of the floor is only rivaled by Tim Duncan.
These performances are key. Without them, the paint is clogged and Parker has to subsist on mid-range shots instead. That isn't a good formula. When the formula is working, Parker is manufacturing offense for his teammates like he did last night, when he dished 18 assists. He missed 14 of 20 shots but his teammates capitalized on his aggressiveness. This time around, they are not merely highly compensated spectators.
"I think we've learned a lot, especially our young guys," Parker said. "We can see the benefit this year. Guys like Danny (Green) and Kawhi (Leonard). They're playing a lot better and with a lot more confidence. I think everybody understands that we haven't done anything yet. We just protected our home court. It's still going to be a long way. We're playing a very good team. They're playing very good at home, so it's going to be tough to get one over there."
Because a team can only be as good as their weakest link. Miami has no discernible weak link. San Antonio doesn't either — though it felt like the entire roster turned in consistently weak performances last season, especially when they needed excellence most. You can overcome one weak link, maybe a few, but when there are several players underperforming … It's difficult, to say the least.
The younger players fell short last year. They have two games in Memphis, with a three-day layoff and a raucous crowd in their path, to alter public opinion.
Otherwise, Parker and Duncan will have to shoulder their load against an intelligent defense, the Spurs will lose games and maybe the series. Then it really will be deja vu all over again.