Sunday will be the first time in franchise history that the San Antonio Spurs will play a Game 7 in the first round. In a series that everyone predicted to be fewer than five games long, the Spurs haven’t been able to find the same footing that led them to a league-best 62 wins during the regular season.
Give credit where it’s due, as the Dallas Mavericks have devised an excellent defensive game plan against the Spurs. Going into the series everybody overlooked the fact that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is easily a top 5 coach in this league. This is the same coach that led the Mavericks to an improbable championship just 3 years ago. To say that he’s gotten the most out of his team in this series might be understating the miraculous job he’s actually done.
On the other side, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is getting the exact opposite from his players. This Spurs team has only shown glimpses of the regular season team we grew accustomed to seeing. For the most part they’ve been disappointing compared to their own standards. They look like a team trying to win while exerting the least amount of energy possible. They know they can’t use the whole tank of gas on this series and they’ve played exactly that way. Well Game 7 is here now and guess what; any rest they’re notoriously known for saving has gone out the window. The lack of consistent effort is what’s surprising. The passion seems to have vanished. Collectively this team looked on a mission this regular season. Now they look like a worn out group.
Even with this era of Spurs basketball potentially hanging on the thread of this first round Game 7 against the Mavericks, there’s still enough left in the basketball tanks of these battle-tested veterans. Ginobili has been the catalyst in this series and easily the most important player in this series for the Spurs, but the tread finally caught up to him in Game 6. You could see him settling time and again not wanting to throw his body into any more punishment. Parker has been inconsistent and has been starting off games fast or ending games in a flurry. Spurs fans would love to see a complete game from him at this point. Duncan has looked lethargic this series. His numbers may be solid but his defensive rotations have been slow and he’s been consistently outhustled by DeJuan Blair when they’ve been matched up. Splitter has been surprisingly amazing in this series on both ends of the court. Leonard has looked uncomfortable and rushed the entire series. He’s usually playing at a frantic pace whenever he touches the ball. It looks now like the Spurs should have utilized him more this season so he would be at ease when posting up and receiving a double team. Instead they bluffed before the season and only gave him opportunities on isolations and post-ups. Nothing was really integrated into the offense for him from a team standpoint. All of this and even the bench has mysteriously disappeared after being one of the top benches all year long. Still it’s no excuse for where they are now.
It’s hard to imagine this could be one of the most disappointing teams in Spurs history when we’re only weeks removed from what was the longest win streak in franchise history when they ripped off 19 straight. Just watching all the other teams in the playoffs makes the situation worst. You see players stepping up for every other team except the Spurs. Splitter is the only player who has consistently contributed his worth or more outside of the Big 3 over the entire series. So even if the Spurs survive at this point, crazy to think we’re talking about survival now, how good can they feel going into the next round? Forget about the Thunder. Damian Lillard is playing with more confidence right now than Monta Ellis and LaMarcus Aldridge poses just as big of a threat as Dirk Nowitzki, if not more at this point in his career. Not to mention that Blazers coach Terry Stotts comes from the Rick Carlisle coaching tree. So you can be sure to see a lot of the same looks defensively from the Blazers.
The lack of passion is what’s killing the Spurs right now. They’re obviously the better team on the court. You can run the numbers and break down this or that, but it’s obvious they’re the better team. It’s also obvious that the Mavericks just want it more, flat out. Of course the players have passion nobody is questioning that. Ginobili plays with more passion than anyone we’ve seen. It’s a collective passion that’s lacking. When another team wants it more than you and to the point where they’re competing with you when they have no business of even being that close, that’s when you can clearly see the team is lacking passion as a whole. When they play together they need to find that collective passion again. They’re completely content with whatever happens during the game, so naturally the more aggressive and passionate team will dictate the outcome. Fans can say they want it all day long with their overflowing confidence and they can have enough passion to rock the AT&T Center on Sunday, but it always comes down to the players. I know Spurs fans are hoping to see that passion we’ve grown accustomed to seeing; not this team who looks like they’re waiting for the Mavericks to roll over. It sure would be nice to see the entire team coming together considering this is more than likely the last legitimate run at a championship this team will have. You can’t expect these guys to come back even better next year at their age. The time is now and if the Spurs feel like they’re time has passed them by then we won’t see that passion on Sunday. Instead we’ll continue to see this fraud of a team that’s been showing up at random times throughout this series. I fully expect the Spurs to want it more just the way they came out in Game 5. It’s not going to be easy but they know everything that hinges on this game. The sky isn’t falling but the Spurs sure don’t look like that team playing to defy the odds anymore.