by Mike Seely
During the San Antonio Spurs' four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals (first time that's happened in a decade), which culminated on Memorial Day with a 93-86 win on the road, never once did it feel like the Spurs were the dominant team. Gregg Popovich admitted as much when consoling his Memphis counterpart after the game, telling Lionel Hollins that the difference in the series was that the Spurs made "a couple of plays, that's it." Problematically for whoever San Antonio faces in the NBA Finals, that's always been it. Great teams win nail-biters in the playoffs, and the Spurs have never lost a championship series—four in all-- during the Tim Duncan era.
Remember that fact should the Miami Heat end up as San Antonio's opponent a few days from now. The Heat aren't just heavy favorites among oddsmakers right now; they're ludicrously heavy favorites. And they'll be just as over-bet by the pundit class (as were the Grizzlies, lest you forget).
Not that the Heat wouldn't be formidable. In fact, a Spurs-Heat matchup would be a classic Old Guard-New Guard face-off that will either cement the legacies of the Spurs' homegrown Benetton trio of Duncan, Tony Parker (a virtuosic 37 points Monday) and Manu Ginobili, or ensure that the Heat's free agency collusion won't go down as a failure. Given the stunningly public arrogance of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the immediate wake of The Decision, only multiple titles will suffice.
In 2007, a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by a 22-year-old James made it to the Finals against the Spurs. That year, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were the only Spurs who averaged double figures. They swept Cleveland, a systematic annihilation which felt infinitely more forceful than the just-concluded Memphis series. Although their core trio is a lot longer in the tooth, this year's Spurs team is younger, deeper and more dynamic than the '07 champs (although that squad's ability to de-ice Robert Horry for the playoffs was a nice luxury), while James probably enjoys playing with Wade a bit more than Larry Hughes.
The regular season game of cat and mouse--in which each team rested its stars while visiting the other--made a San Antonio-Miami Finals matchup seem almost inevitable. Remember the playoff sweeps. Remember The Decision. Remember that Tim Duncan's Spurs have never lost in the NBA Finals. But, most importantly, remember: Kawhi Not?