Lose with grace. That sentiment still leads one to believe the person(s) in question is/are complicit in their defeat. San Antonio, meanwhile, failed to concede anything to the Clippers last night, except Game 7 — and ultimately the series — after getting eliminated almost before they had begun to defend their crown. But there was nothing conciliatory about their play, or their grace under the most charged of circumstances. They taught us all a lesson, one we all know but still often fail to heed when it’s our turn to maintain in a moment of overwhelming frustration.
Let’s start at the beginning of this story, which ironically came at the end of Game 7.
With one second left on the clock in the fourth quarter Saturday night, a Staples Center worker blew the horn right as San Antonio — trailing 111-109 — was midway through their last ATO set of the season and gave the Clippers a not-so-brief look at what was to come.
Ultimately, the blunder — or emboldened bit of homecourt advantage — foretold the end for the suddenly clairvoyant Matt Barnes:
“Absolutely,” Gregg Popovich answered when he was asked after the game whether the Clippers got a chance to see what San Antonio was running on that final possession to end the best game of the 2015 NBA Playoffs — and what may likely remain the best game of the playoffs because of just how hard both teams fought, how evenly they were matched and how realistic each team’s title chances were.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were noticeably absent on that final play, with Popovich inserting little used three-point specialist Matt Bonner to force Jamal Crawford to stay with him in the corner.
But Matt Barnes saw what they were running from his vantage point on the perimeter guarding the stationary Spur Marc Bellinelli, and he timed his leap perfectly to bat the ball away and move on to the next round.
Popovich didn’t dwell on the unfortunate bit of foreshadowing the buzzer provided — whether intentional or not, we’ll leave that to the masses; inevitable and self-repeating calls of nefarious collusion spring out of seemingly every playoff game that comes down to one or two possessions like last night’s Game 7 saga.
While “absolutely,” was the pithy Popovich retort when directly asked about the play, the assembled reporters weren’t yet done with the sequence even if Popovich was. When a reporter followed up and asked whether the Spurs coach thought San Antonio should gave been provided another timeout to change their impending play, his answer again skirted any mention of foul play, or the unfairness of it all, but merely fell back on the disappointment of the night, and the uncomfortable position the Spurs found themselves in after Chris Paul played *the laudable kind of “Hero Ball.”*
“There’s not a whole lot you can do with one second,” said a morose Pop. “They’d seen part of the play, you know; it was gonna be tough anyway.”
And that was it. Duncan followed suit.
Even though we’ve never seen owner Peter Holt curse on live television, and Popovich was also captured cussing out the dunderhead who sounded the horn, after the game it was over. There was nothing they could do, but complain – and the Spurs aren’t made that way.
Maybe they’ll stew and bleat in private, but publicly, the game was over and they had lost. Why tarnish it with quibbles?
Some feisty words in the moment, sure, but then done with because of how powerless the Spurs were to alter the outcome. There is no sense looking back, when the Spurs have a crazy summer ahead, and any angry words directed the Clippers way would have ruined the “class” both teams exhibited during this memorable clash.
“Great series. Really played well,” Popovich continued after the game. “Both teams played with class. There was no baloney going on out on the court… Both teams played their butts off. Great series for them. I am really happy for them. Sad for us, obviously, for a lot of reasons [Duncan retirement vapors for us at that point], but really happy for that group. They’re trying to get it going and they’re obviously in the right direction.”
Please take notes, kids. This is how to not only keep your dignity in defeat, but somehow reach a higher plane of selflessness gravitas. San Antonio’s conduct after the game should be taught in gym classes all over America.
We normally blanch at first-person narratives because it’s incredibly lazy to thrust one’s self into a story (sorry bloggers, but it’s true) – people just naturally assume their innermost thoughts and feelings should be part and parcel of any story they’re telling. We strongly disagree. But in this case, we have to do it.
If I ever have kids, I will point to this game and the farcical way it – with Doc and the Clippers in no way involved – ended, and I’ll tell my kids how Popovich and his team handled the aftermath.
It’s a study in humility and decency. San Antonio’s ability to transcend the pettiness that often engulfs many of us as we’re striving to achieve our goals was astounding to watch in real time and even more incredible upon reflection. The Spurs yearned to win just as much as Paul, Doc, Blake Griffin and the Clippers, but when they lost, even with thoughts of an asterisk fresh in their minds, they took the high road lass traveled and maintained their air of accountability and decorum in the face of extreme dismay.
I hope I can try to be more like the Spurs in my own life. I hope others will do the same. I hope if I ever have children they maintain that same sort of respect for their fellow man even when things don’t turn out how they’d like.
The Spurs are an inspiration, even if they’d be the first one’s to tell you otherwise; that it’s just a game, and parents should be the real inspiration. I can’t think of a better example to show my own children some day than the Spurs after Game 7.
True gentleman are hard to find, but we just saw some of the finest ones get knocked out of the first round under less-than kosher circumstances. And all they wanted to do was praise their opponent’s fight and fire and mourn their fortunes. There’s really not much more to say about their nobleness other than to hope some of it rubs off on me.
*Never before has the NBA’s marketing hand erred like they did when they came up with that 2015 NBA Playoff slogan. For the vast majority of diehard fans, it conjures only the one-man, ball-stopping isolations that should enrage all basketball purists, who think of basketball as art more than performance.
(video via Channel 1 Los Angeles)