In less than a season, Raylan Givens is rocketing up the Austin’s Favorite TV Cops power ranking — threatening Frank Pembleton (“Homicide”), J.C. Williams and Eddie Torres (“New York Undercover”), Rick Hunter (“Hunter”) and the entire cast of “In The Heat Of The Night” — the same way Kevin Durant crashed the NBA’s elite party.
In a recent episode of “Justified” (Tuesdays on FX), Givens had gotten his ass kicked in a barroom brawl, and while his ex-wife is nursing him back to health, they have this exchange:
Ex-Wife: “You’re a little too old to be fighting, Raylan.”
Givens: “I’m certainly too old to be losing.”
That made me think of the San Antonio Spurs.
It’s been almost a week since my other favorite team was swept out of the second round by the Phoenix Suns, which if you know the history of their rivalry, would be like Day-Day mercilessly beating Craig in the fourth Friday movie. The Spurs have been hounded by the “too old” knock ever since they failed to defend their 2007 NBA championship, a claim bolstered by this year’s regular-season struggles. After upsetting the 2-seed Mavericks in the first round, though, San Antonio proved they’re not too old to contend for a ‘chip.
But they’re not the Bulls or the Blazers or even the Hawks: Postseason elimination for these Spurs isn’t met with, “OK, nice run. Now what do we do to improve next year?” Facing the reality that every passing year might be Tim Duncan‘s last good one, elimination means time is running out. For the Spurs, going through the grind of the season hurts even more and seems more like a waste when it’s not rewarded by a championship. For the Spurs, elimination doesn’t come with a side dish of “next year” optimism.
The Spurs are too old to be losing.
Trying to figure out what exactly went wrong, you go back to some of the same issues that plagued San Antonio before the playoffs:
Richard Jefferson, who was supposed to be the breath of fresh air and (relatively) young legs helping the Spurs run with the Mavs, Suns, Lakers and Cavs, was inconsistent during the playoffs, which was at least a step up from being consistently bad in the regular season. RJ put up 18 points (8-13 FG) and 10 boards in Game 2 against Phoenix, which he sandwiched with a combined 9 points on 2-for-12 shooting in Game 1 and Game 3.
Beyond their top four players — Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and George Hill — the Spurs didn’t get enough production. Roger Mason was invisible when he was supposed to be the three-point threat. DeJuan Blair barely got on the court, let alone played like the Junior Paul Millsap he can be. Keith Bogans, Matt Bonner, Antonio McDyess … they all would have had to play well to beat the rolling Suns, and none of them did.
The Big Three (almost Four) aren’t absolved, however. Hill followed his breakout Dallas series by getting ripped apart by Steve Nash for 17 points in the first quarter of Game 1, and he was never the same after that. Manu was all over the stat sheet and was brilliant in two games against the Suns, but for the most part his series was defined by rough shooting nights (41% FG, 34% 3PA). Parker was the most consistent of the group in the second round, but in big spots he missed a lot of those shots around the rim he usually makes. And Duncan put up his usual points and rebounding numbers (20.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg), but he was horrible at the free throw line (47% FT).
But more surprising than anything, Gregg Popovich was simply out-coached by Phoenix’s Alvin Gentry. Watching Game 4 at a family Mother’s Day gathering, my uncle (another Spurs supporter) shook his head and said, “They just can’t run with Phoenix” about 12 times during the second half. But that’s the thing: The Spurs never could run with Phoenix, but they didn’t have to. Pop found a way to make teams play San Antonio’s style, and the Suns and Mavs of the world usually couldn’t compete. This time, Gentry manipulated the matchups, Nash decided he wasn’t losing to this team again, Amar’e was at times dominant, Goran Dragic came out of nowhere with his Game 3 explosion, and role players Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye did everything they’re supposed to do. The Spurs’ season was done.
And now, almost a week later, it still feels like the San Antonio dynasty is done.
Trade rumors are starting to circulate around Parker, which would be mostly a money move if GM R.C. Buford is even considering it; San Antonio is paying four guys more than $11 million next season (Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Jefferson), they have no cap space, but they also know they can’t just roll out this same roster again and pretend to be championship contenders. If you’ve talked yourself into believing Hill isn’t much of a drop-off at point guard, then trading Parker starts to make sense. And surely the Spurs will try to unload Jefferson on somebody; if that happens, maybe they can get the pieces they need to make one more good run with the Big Three intact.
If we have seen the last of the best of the Spurs, hopefully even the San Antonio haters can appreciate what’s happened. You’ve just witnessed what might be the last real NBA dynasty in an era where it’s tougher and tougher to build a dynasty. (Especially if the post-2011 lockout means everybody is signing 3-year contracts from now on.) From 1998 to 2010, San Antonio won four championships. In the years they didn’t win, they were always a threat. And if they’ve got one last good run in them, the Spurs’ enduring legacy is going to be what carries them: You couldn’t ever write them off.