LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — You hear it from people all the time.
“I don’t watch the NBA. I hate that style of basketball. It’s all one-on-one.”
I hope some of those people are watching the NBA Finals. I hope they’re watching, because the San Antonio Spurs, in this series against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, have demonstrated the epitome of team basketball. And they have demonstrated it at as high a level as it is being done in the world today.
They have done it without the best talent in the game. They have done it without relying on great athleticism.
And what they are proving, up 3 games to 1 on a Miami Heat team making its fourth straight trip to the Finals behind stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, is that the game remains a team game. And there is nothing more enjoyable to watch than basketball when good players commit to motion, ball movement, and team play.
After their second-straight double-digit demolition of Miami, 107-86, on Thursday night, I thought ESPN’s Jalen Rose summarized it better than anyone.
“For me, this is an ode and a tribute to team basketball,” Rose said. “In an era where isolation, athleticism dominates, sideshows dominate, the Spurs move the basketball, they play as one, they sacrifice for one another, they play within themselves and they execute to a T. A lot of times one of the criticisms of NBA basketball is that people don’t pass enough. With 24 seconds, I see this team pass the ball eight or nine times to get a quality shot on a regular basis.”
No one on any level of basketball passes the ball better as a team than the San Antonio Spurs have done it in the past two games.
Rose is right. It’s not easy to stay committed to motion, cutting, screening and passing within the confines of a 24-second shot clock.
The Spurs made 40 field goals on 25 assists. Eight players had multiple assists. Somebody at ESPN Tweeted this stat — the Spurs made 380 passes in the game, to 267 for Miami.
Even you purists of the college game must realize, this is not basketball as it is generally played anymore in this country. The college game, like much of the pro game, consists of passing the ball around half-heartedly for 25 seconds before giving it to a guard to run off a high-screen isolation to create a shot.
Nothing about the San Antonio offense is half-hearted. There is the pass, the extra pass, and one more extra pass. There is movement without the ball. There is cutting. There’s back-door and touch passing.
It’s no coincidence, I think, that so many key players on the Spurs’ team grew up playing the game outside of this country — Tony Parker and Boris Diaw in France. Manu Ginobili in Argentina and Patty Mills in Australia. Tiago Splitter in Brazil.
Diaw has been a revelation, a 6-8, 250-pound force who can put the ball on the floor and passes with touch — 8 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists Thursday night.
And who had Kawhi Leonard identified as a player who would, three years out of San Diego State, be the key player in an NBA Finals series? He averaged a double-double, 14 and 10, in two seasons at SDSU. He was a second-team All-American. But a glamor name? Not to anyone, perhaps, but San Antonio.
Indiana selected him with the 15th pick of the first round and promptly sent him to the Spurs in a trade.
Picked ahead of Leonard in that draft — Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette, Klay Thompson, and the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff.
Nonetheless, when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked after Thursday night’s game who he would pick as his team’s MVP to this point, Pop’s answer was predictable.
What does it matter? Nobody on the Spurs seems to care. The bench is engaged. Hall of Famer Tim Duncan has 10 points, 11 rebounds and a big smile.
“There’s no standing on the post,” Rose said. “There’s no one guy dominating the ball.”
“We’re just playing Spurs basketball,” Parker said. “We’re passing the ball, moving, getting the ball into everyone’s hands.”
And on Thursday, the Spurs played better defense. It left a very good Miami team looking hapless and tired, its fans leaving the arena in the third quarter. They couldn’t defend San Antonio. They couldn’t chase the ball. It moved too quickly.
These past two games have been special offensive performances for San Antonio. Who knows whether the Spurs will maintain the kind of magic they found on the offensive end in Miami. But if you haven’t watched the NBA in a while, I’d suggest if you appreciate basketball, you get to a television for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Spurs are putting on a clinic, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch.