Spurs-Warriors: What we've learned
I'm already feeling nostalgic about the San Antonio Spurs-Golden State Warriors series and it hasn't even ended yet. With Memphis advancing to the next round and Indiana probably headed there, you can expect to see more defense and lower scores.
That doesn't mean we'll forget all about this series or that the principles it established no longer apply. We've learned lessons that will continue to be relevant, including
This generation of point guards needs to get to Tony Parker's level
Parker has scored more playoff points than any other active point guard and is fifth among all active players. He could be fourth in playoff assists for active players by next week. More than that, the guy wins, to the tune of 21 playoff series and three championships. Sure, much of that is a byproduct of playing alongside Tim Duncan, but, for the past few years, the Spurs' success has been tied to Parker's performance more than Duncan's. In this series against the Warriors, San Antonio's three victories coincide with Parker's best three games.
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So why isn't he talked about as the standard-bearer for point guard play?
"I don't know if it's because he's a foreigner or whatever the deal is, but he's been pretty impactful since he got here, age 19," Gregg Popovich said. "He helped us win three of our four championships. He's been an All-Star three or four times. [Parker is a five-time All-Star.] I thought, up until the point when he turned his ankle [this season], I thought he played better than any point guard in the league up 'til that point. Without any doubt. And he was still never talked about. And I often wonder why.
"I don't know the answer."
Popovich is partly to blame. The Spurs' team-first ethos diminishes individual brands. You won't find the Spurs coming up with creative dances for player intros or going through elaborate celebrations after hitting a 3-pointer. But it's an environment that creates success, and you won't find a more successful point guard than Parker.
The power of points
Mark Jackson believes good offense can overcome good defense. Unfortunately for him, the Spurs did that and then some in the first quarter of Game 5, when they shot 72 percent and scored 37 points. Before you dismiss the caliber of resistance, keep in mind these aren't the Don Nelson Warriors, whose uniforms might as well have consisted of toreador outfits. Golden State finished fourth in the league in field goal percentage defense this season -- and that was mostly without Andrew Bogut in the lineup to protect the rim, as he has done in the playoffs.
When Stephen Curry was fully mobile, he would either cast 3-pointers or drive and dish to cutting teammates. His ankle sprain has curtailed his driving ability. The Spurs are also taking away Klay Thompson's looks. The giveaway has been their defense on Jarrett Jack and Harrison Barnes, who have each scored 20-plus the past two games.
There have been offensive diversions, but not full stops.
"You can come up with schemes and systems all you want; great offensive players have an ability to knock down shots and make great plays," Jackson said.
The myth of momentum
The biggest media mistake is to assume anything from one game carries over to the next, and this series has been a classic example of that. Neither team won back-to-back games through the first five. In Game 2, the Warriors didn't suffer a letdown from blowing a 16-point lead and a golden opportunity to take Game 1. Nor did they build on their strong play in San Antonio when they got back home in front of their raucous crowd.
I believe in momentum within games. Players get hot, crowds start roaring, opponents get shaky. That's what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 1. But it doesn't translate over the ensuing 48 hours 'til the next game. An athlete's greatest asset can be his ability to forget, and pro basketball players are much better at that mental exercise than fans or media. We like to think we've spotted trends or solutions, but one game often doesn't provide enough evidence of either.
"Every game is like a different picture," Popovich said. "Different things happen, different people step up -- or step down -- on both teams. You try to observe the way you're playing and make adjustments accordingly.
"If you have more experience, you don't get too high or too low. We spend more time talking about how to handle wins than how to handle losses. I think losses are pretty easy to handle. Players come back with whatever, a vengeance or more tenacity, better focus, all the things that we all say and write. But when a team wins, there's always that level of satisfaction that we have to try to take away without hurting confidence. You try to get the message across that nothing's been accomplished yet. And sometimes that's harder to do."
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