Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

 »«

Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

 «»

On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

 »«

So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

«»

There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

 »«

The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

«»

Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.

#BREAKING: Buffalo Wild Wings has designed a series of A/C units designed to break upon command

Inspired by the clever use of machines that did nothing during the 1st game of the most recent NBA finals, Buffalo Wild Wings, in their noble tradition of influencing games for the sake of their clientele, felt encouraged to have a stake in what they expect to be a burgeoning industry.

“The media attention the San Antonio Spurs developed with that first auto-breaking A/C unit was incredible. For a moment, our customers were actually talking about the Spurs, rather than simply bemoaning their boredom with the team while opining as to the number of hands Lebron would need surgically implanted into his chest in order to accommodate his 30-40 rings. Any press is good press.”

The company, noted for their willingness to intervene in sporting events like an Old Testament deity saturated in ranch dressing, noted that while the Spurs pioneered the invention of the not-working industrial A/C unit—they had only scratched the surface of the device’s ultimate potential.

“As a company, our intervention in human history is intended to work for the benefit of the greater good, assuming that greater good is the prolonging of an already lengthy sporting event for the sake of increased beer sales and the added strain and deterioration of marital relationships founded on anything other than a mutual respect of sports and bleu cheese. That is why our A/C units will reactivate upon command, our sleeper cell agents functioning to keep the temperature in the building at whatever state of limbo is deemed most profitable, while frequently pausing the action in order to get the thing up and running again, which, unlike the breaking portion, will actually be a pretty lengthy and tiresome process.”

Buffalo Wild Wings concluded by hinting that they were already through the 3rd stage of testing for titanium incisors modeled after Luis Suarez’ teeth, coated in a layer of rust.

“We’re hoping this next product of ours will push average stoppage time in international soccer matches to roughly the 10-15 minute range. Just enough time to order another basket of boneless honey BBQ wings, or melt a celery stick with nothing but human saliva.”

Basketball Geometry: Does it really matter?

After a thoroughly riveting first two rounds in the NBA Playoffs, the Conference Finals gave us what we thought was going to happen 10 months ago. For the last week, the one-two matchups in both conferences have each been exactly what you’d expect. Until last night.

The Miami Heat and the Spurs have been on cruise control for weeks. Even with the Indiana Pacers’ surprising burst in game one (read: the juries back, the Indiana Pacers aren’t that good), the Heat smoldered onward.

With the San Antonio Spurs crushing Portland and charging out the gates in the Western Finals, almost everyone would have concurred 2 hours ago, we’re getting a Finals rematch.

Then Russell Westbrook decided to do Russell Westbrook things. Kevin Durant sneezed a 31-5-5. And Serge Ibaka built a 25-foot wall, a moat and draw bridge around the paint.

Enter intrigue.

Gregg Popovich has spent the last weeks fine-tuning his Spurs, yet for all the carefully laid out scheming, the unfolding geometry and beautiful cuts and rolls he’s been orchestrating, the Oklahoma City thunderous Supersonics, like a scorned child high on cotton candy and pixie stix, came in and kicked, squashed, spat and generally disrespected every facet of the Pop code.

Geometry is critical to basketball execution. Spacing, movement, passes, threes and layups all have their place. In any given basketball scenario, there is a right time for any one of them.

OKC doesn’t care about that.

»«

Like most hoop fanatics that don’t have a membership to a gym with hoops, that live to recreate their glory days, I’ve picked up a rhythm of pick-up games around town—an elementary school on Sundays, a church on Tuesdays, another church on Thursdays and any hoop (Fisher-Price or fiberglass) any time in between.

Usually, guys are clamoring to play indoors. Shielded from the inconsistencies of inclement weather, 17 people to two hoops is not uncommon. For die-hards 100 minutes in a gym for 20 minutes on the court is part of the game. If anything, it adds to the incentive to win. The more you win, the more you play.

Last night only six people showed up at the local church gym, and only two of us had ever played organized ball. It was some of the best ball I’ve played in months.

My squad was clearly the less talented one. I was the primary ball-handler, and that’s never been good for any team I’ve ever been on. Along with my out-of-shape midrange game, we had a nine-year old, four-foot, shoot-first point guard with penchant for bad decisions and a 6’4” 300 pound center who never strayed beyond 10 feet.

We faced the two most athletic dudes on the court. They came in together and had an obvious rapport.

We won every game.

Going into the game, we had no idea how special our play was going to be. As the only guy who could match up athletically, I knew that I was going to have to work harder than usual, helping out on defense and carrying the offense. If my teammates were as tepid as I was, they didn’t show it. On the other hand, the other team felt great about their chances, and didn’t hide it.

On the first possessions, I sent an entry pass to our big on the left low block. He gave up five feet on the catch, but got most of it back backing his guy down. Having used up most of his energy though, he couldn’t figure out how to finish, so he sent it back out to me.

pickup 1

I drove into the lane away from the bigs, drawing the little guy’s defender to me. Sensing the collapse, our nine-year old sidled back over to the  top of the arc for a wide open three.

pickup 2

 

He heaved every ounce of his 85-pound body into the ball, launching it 28 feet. pickup 3As I tracked the ball in the air for what felt like forever, I knew that the whole night and, subsequently, how I felt about myself and the people around me for the immediate future would be determined by our little guy’s ability to sink exactly this kind of shot.

He drained it.

Betraying the beautiful absurdity of sport, that single fabulous little man jumper lifted up the spirits of over 525 pounds and five decades worth of teammates. We were floating on cloud 9-year old all night long.

On the next possession, we ran almost exactly the same play. Swish.

That’s when I knew it was over. The rest of the night, we played what Bill Bradley and other philosophers of the game call “pure basketball.” Nearly every basket came off an assist. One-on-one plays never took our team out of rhythm. We played inside and outside. When the shot was taken away, we drove. When the drive was taken away, we shot. And we always passed.

«»

Among the array of things basketball is, basketball is a language. Like all languages, it has rules, permutations and its share of quirks. Due to its inherent physicality, however, communication happens quickly, and with the right chemistry almost instantaneously.

Our unlikely trio had never played together before. Hell, we’d never said more than three words to each other before we started. We may have said three words during play. Maybe. Yet we seemed to gel almost instantaneously. Part of it was the kid sank his first two shots, we took a 4-0 lead (which in pick-up can seem an unsurmountable lead).

Most of it was that we identified each other’s roles early on and allowed that to dictate our spacing. Our big was the biggest, stayed close to the rim. Our shooter shot the best, floated beyond the arc. Our skill sets were so limited that we never over extended ourselves, trespassed onto each other’s territory.

»«

The Oklahoma City Supersonics trespassed all over the Spurs last night.

The Sonics didn’t just exact revenge, they crushed the Spurs, left them rattling, and for the first time in weeks, looking vulnerable.

The reason San Antonio’s loss is so jarring, was because there was no game planning around OKC. The aberration of OKC’s game when it’s on (like it was last night) is supernatural. Their formula is a simple: 1) you take the best pure scorer ever, the most ferocious two-way point guard in the NBA and the most intimidating shot blocker with simultaneously intimidating range, and 2) you let them all loose on the same court at the same time (Scott Brooks occasionally points them in the right direction).

Last night, KD and Westbrook combined for 71 points. Ibaka blocked more shots in his two games back (7) than his whole team did without him in games one and two (6). Ibaka’s defense is somehow more reliable than both Westbrook and KD going off simultaneously like that again. When those points are coming off leaping steals and 38-foot threes, it’s enthralling, a wonder, unbelievable, but impossible to sustain for four games against the one the most prolific teams in recent history coached by the most prolific coach in recent history.

The Western Conference Finals has been an exercise in supreme strategy v. prodigious freeplay.

Will the Spurs be ready for game 5? Of course they will. That’s a question for lesser teams—like the Pacers. Confidence is on OKC’s side. They just held the Spurs to under 100 points two games in a row; San Antonio has only been held under 100 in three games prior this playoffs. Of more pressing concern: the next three games will be a referendum on Scott Brooks.

 

#BREAKING: DONALD STERLING PLANS TO PURCHASE AND RENAME “SAN ANTONIO SLURS”

According to an anonymous source, Donald “At least I don’t have AIDS (Read: HIV)” Sterling is in line to purchase the San Antonio Spurs.

“Having spent the past several years in Los Angeles, I think it is time I go help minorities in other states. My benevolence towards colored-folk transcends geopolitical boundaries. Did I mention how much I love helping minorities? Because I do. Love it, that is. Yep”

Sterling went on to say that he “totally doesn’t have AIDS” (not that there’s a problem with that) and that he is totally on board for whatever weird maybe-gay stuff that Magic Johnson may or may not have been in to except when he isn’t.

Sterling showed his sincerity when questioned by apologizing between most sentences in his charming, racist Grandpa sort of way. What a card!

He concluded graciously, hinting at a future name change for the franchise: “I could not be more excited to coach the San Antonio Slurs.”

Giants

“It’s a showcase for two of the 12 greatest players of all time. Both of those guys have been more than 10-time All-Stars, league MVP and finals MVP. There’s only a dozen guys that have done that, and you’ve got two of them.

“They still play like they’re in their prime, both those guys. And so, this is a treat for people who appreciate NBA basketball and the history of the game. You’ve got two guys whose love and respect for the game is so high, and their work ethic and standards are so high that they’ve kept it going in their mid-30s as well as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

-Rick Carlisle

»«

After Game 7 of another thrilling series between Tim Duncan’s Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks concluded in more of a whimper than a bang (a 20+ point blow out), fans and viewers were treated to a delightful—somewhat surprising—celebration by both teams. Smiles, high fives and butt slaps—a collegial celebration of courageous rivals and hard-fought competition.

Tim Duncan seemed to grab everyone’s neck at least once. Dirk made sure to touch everyone. There wasn’t the sort of animosity that sparked after recent games—perhaps because of the blow out and that there wasn’t any intensity left to seep over.

One got the sense that these teams not only understood basketball, but where basketball fits in relation to being—you know—people.

Here were two winning clubs led by two brilliant coaches embodied by two of the most prolific—and by all accounts, totally delightful—players in NBA history, celebrating each other and the game that by the grace of God had the good fortune to be in.

«»

This series wasn’t supposed to be this good. No way was Dirk’s hilarious supporting band of misfits going to hold up against the relentless Spurs offensive attack. No way was the Mavs backcourt of Monta Ellis (fantasy alert!) and Jose Calderon not going to get eviscerated by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. No way was Dirk—at his advanced age, as the only truly effective big on the Mavs roster—supposed to prop up an entire offense.

Yet despite every analyst and expert picking a sweep or near sweep in San Antonio’s favor, this year’s iteration of Dirk v. Duncan proved to be a classic.

They didn’t have the individual performances of years past. Such is the cruel fate of time. But they each still left their fingerprints all over the series with plenty of banks and swishes, grit and grace.

For men who go about their business diametric ways, this year’s matchup produced interestingly similar numbers. Rejoice in wisdom:

dirk_duncan1

Duncan had a much more efficient offensive series (with a sweet 58 fg %), but this happened with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Austin Daye (PATTY MILLS AND AUSTIN DAYE!) having higher usage percentages. It doesn’t take advanced metrics to deduce Duncan has a significantly higher talent pool and player development machine around him.

On the flip side, Dirk has to touch the ball (or at least should) almost every time down the floor. He shoots more and passes more than his counterpart. As a result, he’s got a lower assist to turnover ratio, field goal percentages and even offensive rating.

»«

If Duncan is Mr. Fundamentals, Nowitzki has made a career out of being Mr. Unorthodox.

A graduate of Wake Forest, Duncan’s penchant for academic endeavor and thoughtful consideration made him a beacon of hope for the NCAA in a raging prep-to-pro era that produced superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. Making the right pass, getting in position for the box out, setting the well-timed screen, rolling away from the ball to create space for the driver (instead demanding the ball) making the pass to the assist (or the pass to the pass to the assist) Duncan’s understanding of the rhythm of the game makes his remarkable all around skillset seem unremarkable to the casual observer—especially when he’s sharing the court with Lebron James or Kevin Durant. While the cast for the model of a prototypical power forward may not have entirely been carved from Duncan’s 6’10” frame (see: Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone), what the position could do was redefined when Duncan took the court.

On the other hand, there’s Dirk. A professional basketball player since his early teens, it took uniquely designed training to refine a 7’ tangled mess of limbs into a fine tuned Formula One machine. Unflappable shooting form. Uncanny passing skills for his size. Years of relentless shooting and passing drills even had Dirk’s first NBA coach try him out at point forward. It didn’t work out. But he heightened the role of stretch fours from novel rotation player to the fulcrum of offense. The step-back, raised-leg fade away has become iconic: one of the coolest moves in basketball history, a kickass NBA spot and inspiration for a player who will almost certainly wind up being the most prolific scorer of the 21st century.

Duncan and Dirk are the flip sides of the same power forward coin. Drafted first overall in 1997, and ninth overall in 1998, respectively, both came into the league with international backgrounds, high ceilings and higher expectations. In an NBA universe with endless variables working to keep unbridled potential from achieving greatness, that these two mastered their craft, redefined their positions and continue to set the benchmarks at 38 and 36 is truly remarkable.

«»

This wasn’t the greatest individual performance by either Hall of Fame-bound player. In their careers they met in the post-season five previous times, providing some of the most entertaining playoff battles A.M. (after Michael).

Early on, there were the Western Conference Semis in 2001 and then the Conference Finals in 2003. Duncan’s Spurs took both in six and five, respectively (en route to a Conference Finals loss to the Shaqtastic Lakers and the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2003).

There were the other first round matchups in 2009 and 2010. Both upsets, Dallas (#6) upset San Antonio (#3) in five. Only for San Antonio (#7) to return the favor a year later, trumping Dallas in six.

The most memorable was probably the 2006 conference semis where Dirk triumphed over Duncan in their only other 7 game series. Game seven was won in overtime behind Dirk’s 37pts and 15 reb. Duncan chipped in 41 and 15, 6 ast and 3 blocks. Of course, the supporting casts were almost entirely different then—with the exception of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Devin Harris.

Coincidentally, Dirk and Duncan where at the helm of two of the five first-seed teams upset in the first round by an 8-seed (GS over Dal in 2007, MEM over SA in 2011).

 »«

Perhaps in any other year the significance of Duncan v. Dirk would carry more weight. With two of the greatest power forwards ever going at it for quite possibly the last time, with so much history between the players, this was living, breathing NBA history being played out—a Mt. Rushmore conversation incarnate.

Sure enough, this year, we saw the ridiculousness of five 7-game series, seven of eight competitive matchups and an unprecedented eight overtime games—nearly overshadowed by the Donald Sterling affair and the Adam Silver bullet.

For an entire generation and for many, many years to come, kids will be practicing the Dirk fadeaway in their backyards, and coaches at every level will point to all the little things Duncan did well that, together, comprised greatness.

Greatness matters in sports. Deference should be paid. And we should celebrate every opportunity we have to witness it.