You hear it all the time. Whenever a team goes on a historical hot-streak then everyone jumps on the bandwagon and claims they are the best ever. Surprisingly, the San Antonio Spurs have just set the record for most consecutive wins, for a streak that links the end of the regular season into the playoffs, and did so pretty much without any recognition. With their 20th win in a row last night, 120-111 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs separated themselves from the 2001 Lakers who had also won 19 consecutive during their title run season before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in game 1 of the Finals.
After a 17 point first half, Tony Parker let it be known that he was every bit deserving of that MVP award as Lebron James was. “Tony’s been great all year,” Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s been really focused the entire season.” Granted, OKC is not a premiere defensive team, but Parker literally tore them apart like a bulldog with a new toy. I will be the first to admit my previous dislike of the Spurs, mainly because of the Championship smack-down they laid on my Knicks in the last strike-shortened season, but the unbelievable teamwork and the top quality performances that the Spurs have been putting out on a nightly basis leave me in awe. From top to bottom, the Spurs have no holes. There was a point in last night’s game during the third quarter where all five players on the court for the SAS were bench players, while OKC had out their top 3 scorers, Westbrook, Durant and Harden and their best two defenders Ibaka and Perkins. Instead of relinquishing the lead that the starters had built, the Spurs seemed to build even more momentum.
As the fourth quarter was winding down, I was really hoping that OKC could go on a run and make it game, Unfortunately for them, every time that the Thunder were able to cut the once 22 point deficit down to 7 or 8, the Spurs would just drain a run-stopping shot like it was nothing. I have personally never seen a team this flawless since the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls 1995-96 team, which went on to win an NBA record 72 regular season game and one of Michael’s 6 championships. From the Spurs leading scorer, Tony Parker 21 points a game, all the way down to their 11th leading scorer, Matt Bonner’s 4 PPG, the Spurs can hurt you from anywhere and with anyone. At this point in the playoffs, I can’t feasibly bet the Spurs to lose even one game with the way they are playing. If the Spurs do sweep through the Thunder just like I expect them to, the Celtics or more likely the Heat should be prepared to manhandled. I am now jumping on the bandwagon!
In 2008, the Boston Celtics put together an incredible team with 3 future Hall of Famers to win the Championship. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen played their hearts out while they all tried to win their first ring. When Garnett and Allen signed with the Celtics in the off-season there were a lot of expectations placed on their team to win it all, which is never a good thing…ask Miami. What people didn’t talk about was this young and athletic point guard from Kentucky that was helping lead the Celtics to their first title since Larry Bird brought their last one home in 1986. (If it wasn’t for Bill Buckner, 1986 would have been a perfect year for the city of Boston.)
The biggest stigma placed on Boston in that 2008 season was their supposed lack of a point guard. Little did everyone know that they were sitting on a goldmine. Rajon Rondo quickly quieted all the skeptics with his fearless driving to the hole and smooth, precision passing. Fast-forward over 4 years later and now the stigma has been placed on “The Old Big 3,” while Rondo is now considered the team’s sole savior. In 2008, if Allen, Pierce and Garnett shot a pathetic 16 of 42 from the field and combined for a dismal 44 points, I can guarantee that they would not have won a playoff game. Well, that is exactly what happened last night in Boston’s 85-75 game 7 win against the offensively challenged Philadelphia 76ers. There was one reason and one reason alone that Boston won last night’s series clinching game, and his name is Rajon Rondo. Rondo posted a triple-double for his third time in this seasons playoffs and his eighth ever in the post-season. These playoff triple-doubles put Rondo in an incredibly elite class of players, tied with Oscar Robertson and trailing only players that you might have heard of like Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain for most ever.
As the 21st pick of the NBA draft in 2006 by the Phoenix Suns, there were not many expectations that came with Rajon Rondo into the league. Phoenix actually shipped him to Boston for a protected future top 10 pick. Turns out that wasn’t the best move. Rondo has quickly established himself as a premier PG and is arguably the best passer in the game. His next match-up against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals is going to be a HUGE stage for him to prove his prowess.
Although I hate all things Boston, especially the Celtics, I think I hate “Team Flop-a-Lot,” a.k.a Miami Heat, much more. I would like to see the veterans on Boston pull out a win in this series, but my professional opinion is that Miami will win this series in 6. You can read about why in my Eastern Conference Finals preview article tomorrow.
For almost two decades now the San Antonio Spurs have demonstrated exactly what it is like to play as a team. Year after year, the Spurs have proven that it does not matter who is in the game as long as you play as a team. With NBA championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Spurs are looking to add a fifth title to the dynasty that started when San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan as the first overall pick from Wake Forest in 1997. Last night the Spurs finished their second straight sweep of an opponent in the 2012 playoffs and added to their win streak of 18 in a row dating back to the regular season. In round 1, San Antonio demolished the Utah Jazz only to be faced up with the young and talented LA Clippers in round 2. Fear of this high-flying acrobatic team that fans call “lob city,” was nonexistent in the minds of the Spurs as they won all 4 games without missing a beat. At this point I do not see anybody being able to beat this powerhouse team, whether it be the winner of the Thunder/Lakers match-up in the Western Conference Finals or whomever they would face in the NBA finals.
Although this team is clearly led by their veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, San Antonio is a team with endless depth and can beat you from a million different angles. Second in the NBA in scoring, fourth in assists and ninth in rebounds, the Spurs hit on all facets of basketball fundamentals. The Spurs finished the regular season tied with Chicago for the best record in the NBA at 50-16. The incredible thing about that is that they played relativity under the radar all year. I guess that America has just come to expect that Tim Duncan will lead his team to success season after season. This season was extra special for San Antonio because their expectations were a lot lower after losing in the first round of the playoffs last year.
With a roster filled with relatively unknowns, San Antonio found ways this season to pinpoint each players strengths and weaknesses so they could put a solid 11-man rotation together. Role players like Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green and Tiago Splitter have embraced their opportunities as secondary options to the Spurs all-stars. Aging veterans like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner have bought into the idea of supporting rather than shinning, knowing that it will help their ultimate goal of winning a championship. Already tasting one championship in 2007, Matt Bonner has become a huge vocal leader off the bench, as well as providing the Spurs with a deadly 3-point shot. When the Spurs play it is always a complete team effort and it all starts with the marvelous coaching of Gregg Popovich.
With the Lakers trailing the Thunder 3-1 in their best-of-seven match-up, it looks like the Spurs will be facing off with yet another young and extremely talented team in Oklahoma City. I can’t bet against the Spurs right now with the way they are playing, but I do feel that OKC poses a tough match-up. If the SAS make the finals it will most likely be against the Eastern Conference favorites, Miami Heat. If this is how it all plays out I will really look forward to seeing the Spurs and Heat duke it out till the very end. Regardless of what else happens for the rest of the playoffs, I think we should all pay our respects to the under-appreciated and over-achieving San Antonio Spurs.
Being a Knicks, Mets and Jets fan has helped me build some thick skin and cope with defeat and heartache better than most people can. But this Monday night I was pushed to a whole new level of “fan frustration.” Amare Stoudemire performed what I can only describe as the most selfish and moronic move I have ever seen in sports. Following a demoralizing game 2 defeat in Miami, the Knicks players headed to their locker room with their heads down, and in Amare’s case fists loaded. Stoudemire thought that the best way to take out his post game frustrations was to punch the glass casing on a fire extinguisher. Who knows, maybe this act was a metaphor for how Amare thought he could “put out” the Heat’s fire. Regardless of his intentions, Amare has now removed himself from game 3 and most likely the remainder of the series because of the lacerations he sustained from the punch.
This could not have come at a worse time. First, let’s start with the fact that the Knicks are now going to have to try and find a way to beat arguably the best team in the NBA without their second leading scorer and rebounder whilst down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series. Secondly, this is now back-to-back seasons where Amare Stoude’quagmire’s dimwitted actions altered his ability to play in the playoffs. Last season in a shoot-around before game 2 against the Boston Celtics, Amare tweaked his back trying to perform over-the-top dunks in pregame warm ups and was unable to perform for the rest of the series. This most recent act of selfishness is inexcusable and he definitely deserves to to be reprimanded for his lunacy.
“I am so mad at myself right now,” Stoudemire tweeted after declining to speak to the news media. “I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start.” Hopefully the first thing he does when he gets home is give some of that 5-year $100 million contract back to some fans around New York who have had to suffer through his last two seasons of underwhelming performances. I for one would like the $99 I spent buying his jersey reimbursed to me.
What does this mean for the remainder of the series against Miami? Well, games 3 and 4 are going to be played in New York and hopefully the Knicks will have a fire lit under the asses…(if it gets out of control I hear Amare knows what to do.) Regardless of the Knicks tenacity in Thursday’s upcoming game 3, this all feels a little too similar to last seasons series against Boston where we also had two starters down for the count, Amare and Chauncy Billups. The series ended in a sweep and is part of the Knicks tying the worst losing streak in playoff history with 12 straight losses. After the game Carmelo Anthony said, “Nobody wants to lose, but my thing is, as one of the leaders of the team, I’ve got to keep everybody positive. I’ve got to keep everybody’s head up to keep everybody confident.” All season long Melo has tried and help Amare get over his injuries and career-worst performances but it doesn’t seem like it helped. When asked about what Amare did he said, “I really don’t know how to put it in words, but it’s a tough situation. It seems like it’s always something happening. Snakebit.”
I am a very strong believer in Karma so maybe back in New York there will be a fire extinguisher that punches Amare back. All I am really hoping for is a couple more competitive games against Miami and then an off-season where the Knicks look for healthy and responsible players that actually have a goal of winning…(and rubber casing around all fire extinguishers in the Garden.)