Last night the San Antonio Spurs made the Miami Heat look absolutely foolish, finishing a 5 game rout of the defending champions. Make no mistake, the Heat are an amazing basketball team, the Spurs were just operating on a higher level. To be fair, the Spurs were operating on a higher level than pretty much everyone this year. Who would have thought going into the 2014 NBA playoffs that it would be the eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks to pose any sort of threat to them? The old fogies cemented their legacy for good with relative ease.
Although the NBA Finals were a bit anticlimactic for my taste, they were unexpectedly cathartic for fans here in Portland. Back in May, the Trail Blazers snagged just one game from the Spurs in the conference semifinals, but were otherwise crushed for the world to see. It wasn’t until the Heat faced the same fate on an even larger stage that it became clear just how good this Spurs team was. We can act like it was obvious all along, but we are maybe one week removed from respected pundits shouting “Heat in 6!”
In a weird way, this makes me feel like the Trail Blazers are closer to real contention than I generally acknowledge. After all, they managed the same record as the Heat did (54-28) in a much tougher conference and were eliminated by the same team in the same fashion. Faring as well against the 2014 champions as a team full of future Hall-of-Famers pushing for a 3-peat feels more like success than failure. Maybe with some development here, the right moves there, and a little luck the Trail Blazers can make the Finals too in a year or three.
This task would be immensely easier if the current Spurs team scattered to the wind, but I don’t see that happening. Gregg Popovich wants to keep coaching, Manu Ginobili wants to keep playing, and Tim Duncan has until June 24th to mull over his player option. I suppose even if Duncan does retire, the Spurs are not guaranteed to slip very far. It would be almost too easy for them to plug in Pau Gasol in free agency without losing much steam as a championship contender. If Portland hopes to best San Antonio, they can’t just wait for the Spurs to wither.
I wouldn’t mind a little emulation though (shocker, I know). It was pretty clearly the Spurs’ bench that made the difference last night. LeBron James was exhausted, Chris Bosh was struggling, and Dwyane Wade was damn-near absent. Manu Ginobili (19 points) and Patty Mills (17 points) carved them up like thanksgiving turkeys off the bench. Unfortunately, the Trail Blazers have no Patty or Manu—they have greenhorns and Dorell Wright. Maybe a little dedication to development is in order.
What do you think?