The mood inside the Dog & Duck Pub here in Austin, Texas, is somber to say the least. The topic of conversation, even among the half-way followers, verges on the existential: Game 6 and the 20 seconds to an almost-championship, Game 7 and Timmy's bunny hop that almost went in to tie the game in the final seconds, Kawhi Leonard's missed free-throw that almost dropped and could have ended the series once and for all. Almost is the word that haunts today and more than likely, the entirety of next season for the Spurs and their fans. But almost is something to consider too, especially for a team many considered, as recent as this year, to be beyond their prime. Only five Game 7s have been forced in the last quarter century. Most of them have been grueling to watch, this one being no exception. But in this series there are some things we learned about the Spurs and a few things to look forward to. Here's the silver (and black) lining:
1. The Spurs Can Go the Distance
While there were definitely signs of aging, particularly evident in the later games of this series with the Heat, there were also displays of incredible endurance from the likes of Tony Parker, who scored an average of 20.6 points per game while playing an average of 36.4 minutes on a tight hamstring (which doctors said could rip at any moment) and Tim Duncan whose performance was especially notable in these Finals, having scored an average of 18.1 points on 35.0 minutes. The Big Fundamental's reliance on, well, the fundamentals, have allowed him to age gracefully thus far. He's expressed no interest in premature retirement and Tony Parker has expressed no interest in leaving San Antonio. Couple the resilience of those core players in a physical series with the toughness of Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs have a decent shot at another run in the not too distant future.
2. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Danny Green holds the current record for 3 point shots made in the Finals, with 27. Kawhi Leonard's poise and grace under pressure in Game 7 continually gave Spurs new life when all hope seemed lost. And as I've also written about in my previous blog post, The Enigmatic Kawhi Leonard, he's also proving to be one of the toughest defenders in the game at only 21 years old. These gentlemen are players to watch. They rose to the occasion several times throughout the playoffs and in the Finals. They are the future of the San Antonio Spurs. I have no doubt they'll be future Hall of Famers before long with Coach Pop at the wheel.
3. They've Won the West and They're Contenders to Win it Again
While it might be fruitless, and probably a bad idea altogether, to speculate on the team chemistry, restructuring, and rebuilding times of other organizations like the Clippers, the Lakers, and the Mavericks, who are all in flux, there is something to be said about the stability and durability of the San Antonio Spurs under the management of R.C. Buford and the coaching of Gregg Popovich. The Clippers are in talks with the Celtics. Mark Cuban is in talks with Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard is in talks with everyone. The Spurs have spoken: they'll continue to pound the rock. It got them this far. And Tim Duncan has another couple seasons to go, yet.
4. The Birth of a Rivalry (Maybe)
Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward ever to play the game, vs. LeBron James who, Magic Johnson boldly proclaimed last night, will be remembered as the greatest player ever. What say you, MJ fans? While it's impossible to tell the future, it's more than possible that these two teams will meet again in the Finals, which is good news for basketball fans everywhere: Small-ball, LeBron shooting 3s, El Charro del Oro vs. the preternaturally gifted Julia Dale who both sung the National Anthem with great affect. What wasn't there to like about these finals? You would be hard pressed to find a Finals series in recent history that matched up to the intensity of this one. Even if you're a Spurs fan, you have to acknowledge that great basketball plays were made on both sides of the court. The Spurs were a pleasure to watch. The Heat were superb. The sportsmanship displayed in this series was unparalleled in all sports, I would argue. Never before have I seen such respect between two teams who played with such tenacity and such desperation. These teams understand they're likely to meet again. They expect to meet again. And so do we, the faithful.
Follow me on twitter @danimalpena or contact me e-mail at email@example.com