Blog Entry

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

Posted on: April 30, 2011 3:12 am
The Spurs were ousted in the first round and everyone's begun the funeral song. But why does this feel so different than previous Spurs failures? 
Posted by Matt Moore

Maybe they'll come back. After all, they did win the most games in the West this season. They still feature three Hall of Famer players and a Hall of Fame coach. Maybe it was just lightning striking four times out of six in the same place. Maybe it was just Manu's elbow, or Duncan's knee, or fate or the Basketball Gods, or whatever. 

But it doesn't feel like it. 

There will be many, many eulogies for the Duncan-era Spurs in light of the Grizzlies' stunning first-round series win over San Antonio. Spurs fans will balk and guffaw at these claims, because heroes never die to their fans, or because they've already accepted that the championship-era Spurs are over. They'll point to the fact that the Spurs haven't won a title since 2007 as reasons why all this talk of the end of an empire is silly and overdramatic. But that's because they're in it. They're living it, every day, reliving series against the Lakers and Mavericks and Suns while approaching each season with faith. It's different for those of us outside of the palace walls, because this series respresented something different. It wasn't that the Spurs lost. Most expected that in these playoffs. It was the realization they couldn't win. 

The Spurs have lost in previous years but because the other teams had matchup advantages or a few things fell their way or the Spurs couldn't make the necessary adjustments. The losses didn't serve as judgment on the identity of the Spurs. To put it simply, the Spurs failed to win a championship because of other teams' ability to beat them, not fundamental flaws in the city walls that held the kingdom.  This loss?  To an upstart eighth seed without its highest paid player who tanked to play them, then took them out in the first game on their home floor and closed at every opportunity? Yes, the Grizzlies were better, and yes, they had matchup advantages. But there were moments where you expected the Spurs to do what the Spurs do and for that to be the difference. It wasn't. 

Tony Parker struggled with Mike Conley attaching his dribble. Manu Ginobili suffered when the Grizzlies responded to Ginobili's quickness by backing him down in the post. And Tim Duncan just plain struggled. The greatest power forward of all time found himself overwhelmed by a 26-year-old quick-footed center who is most commonly known as "Pau's little brother." Marc Gasol is a really great player, a future star in this league, maybe one now, after this series. But the Duncan that defined those teams would have tore him to pieces from mid-range with the bank-shot-straight-up. The Manu Ginobili who defined the mid-oo's run for the Spurs would have called timeout to reset the offense with the final possession of Game 3. The Tony Parker who won Finals MVP would not have had his play so thoroughly undercut by an attack on his handle. 

But beyond the Big 3? The Spurs of old would never have relied on the 3-pointer this way, would never have had to cover for a gigantic flaming neon defensive red target like Matt Bonner just to space the floor, would never have had to rely on Gary Neal and George Hill's mid-range jumpers to fall. They would have fallen back on clutch plays and defense, always defense. The Spurs' empire isn't over because their players got old, that's been happening for a long time and in reality, the team is pretty young. The Spurs' empire is crumbling because what made them the team you couldn't count out, now has become the very thing that makes you not that shocked at this shocker. A mediocre defensive club falls to a better one, a team that relies on an aging Tim Duncan is toppled by younger, more spritely bigs, the squad that allows Matt Bonner on the floor defensively is beset by easy scores and foul trouble when Matt Bonner can't contain his man in the post. There's nothing shocking here, not if you've been paying attention.

Afterwards, Gregg Popovich was his usual self. Congratulatory to Memphis, classy in defeat, dismissive of dramatics like the question of the end of the Spurs' run. If they go out, they go out on their own terms. The franchise that defined class, humilty, and above all, excellence, would not go out in a pitiful blow-up of egos or blame. They simply hugged their worthy opponent, packed their things, and headed home. 

Spurs fans may have already come to terms with the end of an era, or rationalized that there will be no end, only a transition. But for the rest of us, the Grizzlies' shock of the world serves as a reminder of the mortality of dynasties. It's not just that the Spurs lost a first-round series to an 8th seed. They lost to a team more willing to grind, more willing to defend, more able to close. What is it about these Spurs that make them seem so far removed from what defined those great, inevitable Spurs teams? Just think back to what we saw from the upstarts, the team that simply wanted it more. That's what means the empire has reached its end. 

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: April 30, 2011 9:21 am

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

The tale of their demise is greatly overstated, mainly because the tale of their success is greatly overstated as well.

The Spurs year in and year out for a decade were a solid B+ team.  Their success and failure largely dictated by the rest of the league.  If there was an A team, the Spurs would lose.  If there were no A teams, the Spurs would win.

They win their first championship in a strike shortened year over a Knicks team on the decline.  Then they take a back seat to Kobe and Shaq who beat them 3 out of 4 in the playoffs.  They win their second championship against a very active, but very mediocre Nets team.  They win their third championship post Lakers break up.

They were amazingly consistent, but they were not great.  The great ones can defend their championships.

Since: Sep 30, 2006
Posted on: April 30, 2011 9:04 am

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

Umm No. How can a team be Western Conference Champs one year and over before the next season even starts? Sure they lost in the 1st round, so? The Spurs are headed by one of the best ownership/management teams in all of sports. They will contend next year, the year after that, and so on. They proved they can win plenty of games with Duncan not being the focal point. The team will make the neccessary adjustments and be back next year. There are at least 20 teams in the league that their fans wish where in the playoffs every year like the Spurs, much less won 4 Championships in 12 years.

Since: Sep 21, 2006
Posted on: April 30, 2011 7:25 am

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

I'll leave any analysis of the whys and wherefores to others both more knowledgeable and less emotionally invested than I.

What I will do is spare a moment to note that the elimination of the San Antonio Spurs from championship contention is always a happy occasion.


Counting both regular and postseason games, that's a finishing kick of 14 wins against 15 losses, folks.


Since: Jan 4, 2009
Posted on: April 30, 2011 7:09 am

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

if this is the end, it was one hell of a run.

Since: Jan 2, 2010
Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:38 am

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

So it's an issue of depth then...? The Big three have nothing left, and the bench can't execute defensively...? This is not a shock.  This team can't play defense.  It was that way in the regular season, and also, in the post-season!  Oh well.  Out with the old, and in with the new...

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