The Spurs' quiet brilliance deserves some love
The San Antonio Spurs are not boring.
The Spurs — winners of four titles in the past 15 years and perennial contenders — have pretty much owned the league since before LeBron James hit puberty. Yet the perception of the Spurs as a dull, plodding team is as cemented in NBA lore as the belief that Joakim Noah is a goon (that one, however, is true.)
"Vanilla thinks the Spurs are a bit boring," the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley quipped this week. Tim Duncan's game is so lame he "makes Hoosiers look like an And-1 Mixtape," said SB Nation's Andrew Sharp.
Seriously, go to Google, and type in "The San Antonio spurs are," and "boring" is the first suggested filler.
How did we get to this flawed consensus?
"There's a reason that Bridezillas is a show and there's nothing called Reasonably Well-Planned Wedding Enjoyed by All," Slate's Mathew Yglesias wrote of this stigma last year. "Americans don't want excellence, and we certainly don’t want long-term sustained excellence. We want our dynasties to come with a side order of drama, controversy, and bad behavior."
Basketball has, over the years, developed from a game of pasty dudes in high socks and Chuck Taylors awkwardly heaving a ball around into a game of high-flying, muscle-bound superheroes thumping their chests and doing things like this:
That's not a bad thing. I spent hours in my driveway as a kid, hoop lowered to a reasonable height, trying to re-create Vince Carter's ridiculous dunks.
Yet while all that drama and athleticism are certainly exciting aspects of the modern NBA, that doesn't mean the Spurs are an inherently boring team. Rather, San Antonio just plays an elegant, effective style of basketball that is too understated to gain the attention it deserves.
Despite their supposedly unbearable play, the Spurs scored more points per game than all but three teams this year. They put up more per game than the much-hyped offenses of the Heat, Lakers, and Knicks, and they're once again headed to the Finals.
It's easy to miss the Spurs' scoring prowess because of the incredibly fluid nature of their offensive sets.
"The Spurs offensive system can be made to seem almost mystical at times, as if Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] were some basketball wizard waving a magic wand to bring about a cascade of 3-pointers from the ether," Grantland's Brett Koremenos wrote.
Their style of play is much more likely to be described as "beautiful" than "exciting." Yet that beauty is precisely what makes the Spurs highly entertaining to watch — so long as you know what you're watching.
Players screen and slide and pop to corners, spacing the defense, duping opponents, and allowing the Spurs to get open looks all over the floor. ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, in a thorough explainer on the Spurs' unique offense, described one play as "a magical merry-go-round of basketball possibility, a play that has an endless number of outcomes."
That play probably won't result in an alley-oop, but the Spurs' flawless execution of it — again and again and again — is nothing short of amazing.
The Spurs also run plays so subtle even opposing teams don't know what's going on. In their "Hammer" offense, players give every indication they're running a baseline drive on one side of the court, only to drop a sneaky back screen, flip the ball to the opposite corner, and drain a three. Here's that play in action, via Grantland:
They repeatedly used that same play to make Memphis look hapless all series long. As a result, the Spurs swept the Western Conference Finals in a barrage of threes and crisp plays.
Another huge part of San Antonio's game is the assist. The Spurs led the league in assists per game, with guard Tony Parker setting the pace. He dropped an incredible 18 assists on the Grizzlies in Game 2, leading Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine to remark that Parker's "overall control of the game and mastery of a hard-working Grizzlies defense was undeniable."
With those crisp, precise passes, often dished out following swift cuts to the hoop, Parker is the antithesis of boring. He may not make as many circus plays as other point guards, but he keeps the defense on its toes — and should keep you on the edge of your seat — every time he touches the ball.
Even if you're not a fan of the Spurs' patience and precision on offensive, there's plenty about them to find entertaining.
Yes, Tim Duncan is older than time itself and won't be flattening the opposition with thunderous dunks. But even he can throw one down now and again.
And if you thought all Duncan did was make bank shots, forget it. He's also a world class troll:
Speaking of trolls, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich makes Internet commenters look like regular Hemingways when he dismantles interviewers, a recurring phenomenon that always makes for entertaining TV. Here's one exchange from earlier in these playoffs:
No, the Spurs aren't boring. They've just been so good, for so long, that they've become predictable — but in the best way possible. We expect them to win tons of games; we expect Duncan to make layups; and we expect Popovich to mess with anyone who talks to him. All of that is, in itself, highly entertaining.
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