Somewhere along the way, the San Antonio Spurs lost their edge.
It may have been last year, where a lackluster season (by ultra-competitive Western Conference standards) earned them a seven seed. It may have been 2009, when they got upset in the first round by a hungry Dallas team. It may have been when the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, dividing the West for the foreseeable future into the categories of “Los Angeles” and “Everyone Else.”
Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan has been the NBA’s equivalent of Bill Belichick-Tom Brady. For a decade, the Spurs have been a synergy of coach and star player that gave the team a robotic, quiet dominance.
This year, the Spurs were one of the most ignored, disrespected 1-seeds in recent NBA playoffs memory. Memphis came into their first-round series with the Spurs with confidence, with swagger, and with just enough game to back it up. After last night’s blowout win, the Grizzlies are up 3-1 on the Spurs. Memphis was stronger, faster, more disciplined, and more ferocious on defense. After a relatively even first half, they just flat-out dominated the Spurs to put the game away.
I don’t want to pre-emptively write an obituary for this dynastic Spurs team, but it just feels like something’s changed. When word leaked that Memphis may have tanked to get a matchup with the Spurs over the Lakers, it wasn’t surprising. It made sense. But there was a time when the steely gaze of Gregg Popovich and the blank stare of Tim Duncan kept opponents up at night. The young, brash Grizzlies don’t remember the mechanical juggernaut. When they look at the Spurs, they just see a bunch of guys who haven’t summoned up the necessary emotion to put up a good fight.