It seems simple. Just stay together. That's the only thing you have to do if you have three great players in their prime. Just don't split. Take a little less money, have a little less ego. Don't be quite so focused on your own goals and think about what you and the guys who have played beside you can accomplish together.
But it almost never happens in the NBA. Injury, ego, money, front office politics, market dynamics, personal choices, all of these things disrupt the great combinations of players.
Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have passed Magic, Kareem and Cooper for most playoff wins by any trio in league history.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) May 22, 2014
I'm willing to go ahead and say it. I think this team, this Spurs core that has been together since 2002, when you factor its entire 12 year-and-counting run, is the greatest NBA team of all time. The Chicago Bulls had better players, and much better individual seasons in the 90's. The Lakers and Celtics captured our imaginations the way that this team never has. But going back to when Duncan was drafted, that this team has been so dominant for so long? That this core for 12 years has been this good?
It's fine if you believe it's Russell's Celtics, or Jordan's Bulls, or Magic's Lakers or Bird's Celtics or, if you want to get really inventive, Kobe's Lakers. But that's where I'm at. I've never seen anything like what this Spurs team has done over such a long time.
The Spurs are two wins from the NBA Finals for the fifth time in the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era, and even as Ginobili has moved to more of a role player behind Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs have gone from Duncan's team to Parker's team to everybody-on-the-entire-team's team, what they've accomplished is a stunning reflection of how sacrifice and commitment to an idea can create amazing things.
The Spurs never dismantled the core to "shake things up" which is sometimes necessary. They never had to because of how those three play. I always tell friends my favorite part of any Spurs game is before it. Tim Duncan, NBA veteran beyond eons, comes out and goes through his pre-game warm up with an assistant. And it's not "getting some shots up." He's not lazily joking with staff or fans while tossing up threes. He goes into a series of blistering, killer post moves that could knock through a brick wall. He sweats. He grunts. He claps his hands and screams... when he misses a hook shot in pre-game warmups.
That's the process they stick to. Ginobili, Duncan, and Parker all took pay cuts to stay in San Antonio. They appreciated what they had, even in those years they weren't winning titles, and committed to being a part of something with each other.
In basketball terms, this gets overlooked. It's why these super teams are never great in their first year. You need time together, day after day, pounding the rock, going through the system, learning about what one another does, how they move, how they play, what they can do. The Spurs don't just know how to play together, they understand one another, because they take the time to. In the modern NBA, that's an exceptionally rare thing.
In Game 2, you saw everything that makes the Spurs great. And this team doesn't resemble the gritty, grind-it-out version of the early 2000's at all. But they do reflect the time these three have spent together. Ginobili, whipping passes to teammates because he's learned to trust them. Duncan coordinating things and yelling out assignments. Parker, the maestro of it all, handed the keys after proving himself to Popovich and Duncan.
And that's the missing part of the stat. It's not those three. It's those three... and Popovich. The four men who have made San Antonio into a dynasty by sticking together and building a culture that now extends beyond themselves. Danny Green slicing threes, Kawhi Leonard crashing to the rim, Tiago Splitter swallowing up drives and tipping back buckets. It's all part of the design that comes from those three and their commitment to the thing that has given them more wins than any other trio in league history.
They have given themselves to being great. And they're very, very close to showing why on the biggest stage again.