I really thought the Spurs were about to enter another round of Grizzly season.
I truly expected Memphis not to end up singing the blues.
I didn’t foresee the limping LA Clippers would escape the bear trap.
What Chris Paul and crew didn’t realize: they also did the same favor for the Spurs by eliminating the Grizzlies in Game 7. After all, SA still has the bite and claw marks from last year’s first round exit in Memphis. Even with Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw providing some backup muscle, Tim Duncan probably isn’t eager to tango with bearish combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol once again.
Again, the Spurs FEAR noone or no team. When asked during the seemingly perpetual layoff, which team would they prefer to play, the Spurs players answered with the standard, “It doesn’t matter.”
But when Jim Rome asked Manu Ginobili if he would like a rematch with Memphis to exorcise the demons of last year, Manu said, “Of course, I would welcome that.”
Manu should be the only Spur to want another go round with those grizzly Grizzlies. His broken elbow was certainly the lost edge SA could not recover from. Still, the Spurs know a series vs. the Grizzlies is totally different from one with the Clippers. Even Paul admitted as much to ESPN after Game 7:
“This series vs. Memphis was all about being physical. The series against the Spurs will all about being strong mentally,” CP3 said. “That team won’t beat itself.”
CP3 knows first hand. Paul and the New Orleans Hornets pushed the Spurs to seven games in 2008. The Spurs not only didn’t beat themselves that year, they also beat CP3, David West and the Hornets in New Orleans in Game 7.
So now here comes CP3 into SA once again, to battle the Spurs who are led by their own MVP.
We’ll dub him TP9.
Tony Parker and Chris Paul are more than just elite NBA point guards. They also are the best of friends. After the Clips Game 7 win in Memphis, one of the first congratulations texts Paul received came from Parker.
It’s the kind of friendship that rubs diehard Spurs fan nuts: Paul and Parker talk almost every day, and the power PGs also eat dinner every time one is in the other’s city for a game. Even playoff games.
They will kill each other with crossovers on the court, then toast each other with fine wine after. So would it be too far fetched to spot Paul hanging at Tony’s Nueve Lounge?
Nowhere near as close, in friendship or prowess, are the head coaches. The best summation of Gregg Popovich facing former Spur Vinny Del Negro comes from Jeff McDonald when he wrote in the SA Express-News:
“Gregg Popovich vs. Vinny Del Negro in a seven-game series isn’t exactly a fair fight (think Obi Wan vs. Jar Jar).”
Count that as +1 for Pop and the Spurs.
With Blake Griffin’s highlight-seeking, one dimensional game (good thing dunks and alley-oops still only count for two points) coming in gimpy with a hyperextended knee, this series will be decided by the two floor commanders and the bench.
The Spurs bench has been so deep this year, they need to hire lifeguards for safety. Manu and the Ginobilis averaged 40 points per game in the Utah series. But don’t discount the streaky Clippers’ bench. In Game 7, on the road, in the 4th quarter, Del Negro had CP3 and Griffin on the bench. LA’s bench only went on a 23-0 run to take the lead. The Clips’ bench total in Game 7: 41 points.
Back to Parker and Paul. CP3 is the kind of cold blooded assassin that can will a team beyond its means. But like Griffin, Paul does not start this series feeling groovy. CP3 is slowed by nagging injuries to his hip and groin. Still, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy told the LA Times, “As long as you have Chris Paul on the court, you have a chance.”
If they both were 100%, many Spurs fans would admit the edge goes to CP3. But in this series, with Paul hurting, LA doesn’t like what will become known as the “Second Round Theorem”: TP9 > CP3.
Then again, according to Charles Barkley, maybe it didn’t matter which team was challenging the Spurs. As Sir Charles told Dan Patrick last week, “No matter which team wins, the Clippers or the Grizzlies, you can go ahead and pencil in the Spurs for the Conference Finals. Neither team is ready for what the Spurs have this year.”
So therefore, the Spurs > the Clippers. The pick here is: after shaking off some rust, SA in 5 games.