“Are we having fun yet?”
That question kicked off what will undoubtedly enter the “Coaching Time Out Speech” Hall of Fame. Sean Elliott will forever be remembered for delivering the “Memorial Day Miracle” in the Spurs’ first title run in 1999. Gregg Popovich might have provided the bookend to that pivotal moment in Spurs history. A moment that ignited the comeback in last night’s 101-98 win over the Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Especially if this postseason drive eventually culminates with NBA title #5 for SA.
Here’s the moment everyone is talking about and that will now live in Spurs and Pop’s history…
The Spurs trailed the rolling Thunder by nine points entering the fourth quarter. The Thunder were running free, while the Spurs were stumbling trying to match Oklahoma City’s pace.
“It’s not supposed to be easy… Every round gets tougher.”
Pop saw what Spurs Nation was witnessing: this Spurs team that swept through the Jazz and Clippers suddenly found themselves chasing a longer, quicker team through the first three periods.
“Penetrate hard. Good passes… Shoot with confidence!”
Shots were going up with tight arms, uneasy wrists. The last basket Danny Green or Matt Bonner made came a week ago in the Staples Center after combining to go 0-8 from the field. Kawhi Leonard (7 points, 7 rebounds) and Gary Neal were the only Spurs without an NBA title ring who didn’t appear totally in awe on the Conference Finals stage. Neal’s 12 points, including two clutch 3-point shots in four tries, were critical. That’s also one reason Pop stayed with Neal in the final quarter with the guys who do have rings: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson.
“I want some NASTY!”
“That’s my name. Stephen “Nasty” Jackson.”
Smiling with reporters as he said it, Jackson sported a quality Cheshire cat grin. “Nasty” got up close and personal with the God of Thunder, Kevin Durant. And yes, he also got a little nasty. Jackson was channeling his inner Bruce Bowen, sticking to Durant better than a sticky trap could. Being that close and crowding Durant took the 6′ 10″ scoring champ off his game. Frustrated Durant into swinging an elbow across Jackson’s chin for an offensive foul.
The Durantula finished with a game high 27 points. But he only got two shots off in the pivotal fourth quarter. Two shots? From the 3-time scoring king? That’s getting nasty. This is how far Jackson has matured. His impact was game changing on the defensive end. Jackson’s only basket, a 3-point dagger to put the Spurs up 91-84 resulted in a headlock hug from Timmy.
And flashbacks to 2003 for Spurs Nation.
Jackson made it clear to the media, even though it should be crystal clear: Pop was not imploring his team to sweep Russell Westbrook’s legs, or yank away at James Harden’s beard.
It was a call for aggression, for passion, for scrappiness.
Here’s Popovich’s explanation: ” I thought we were playing a bit unconfidently, kind of on our heels, a little bit unsure of ourselves, on the dribble too much. So I talked to them about getting a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to those guys. We got that way in the fourth quarter.”
There he goes again. Play with more FIBER? No wonder the Spurs are called an old team.
But exploding for 39 fourth quarter points, 16 of those in the paint, is getting nasty. Manu Ginobili not missing in the fourth (3-3 FG, 5-5 FT) for 11 of his team high 26 points, is getting nastier. Showing championship mettle with a stunning 18-3 game winning run is as nasty as the Spurs needed to be to defend their home court.
Which of course, leads to the obligatory quick thinking businessman: “Nasty” T-shirts were rolling off the press last night.
Meanwhile, the psycho analysis of Oklahoma City begins: how does the young team react to blowing a prime opportunity to steal Game 1 and swing the home court edge back to Thunder Alley? How many more games will they get a combined 25 points from Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collision and Derek Fisher? At times it seemed like Fish thought the AT&T Center clock was showing 0.4 seconds, since he didn’t miss until the last period on his way to scoring 13 points.
Yet those performances go wasting away. The Thunder can tell themselves they gave one away, and that they’ll take it back in Game 2. Sure OKC can play a lot better, especially down the stretch.
“We had this game going into the fourth,” said Durant told the press after the game. “It’s tough, but we can’t hang our heads. It’s a long series. We have to keep playing, try to get Game 2.”
Problem for the Thunder is this: the Spurs can play a lot better, too. Especially in the first three quarters. Even more so when Tony Parker has a TP9 MVP-caliber game.
“It was perseverance more than anything. They were playing well in that third quarter and we stuck with it,” Duncan said after his steady, if not spectacular 16 point, 11 rebound night.
Stuck with it. Stuck to Durant on defense.
Stuck with guys Duncan’s been on the championship road before with.
A title trail that is not named Thunder Road. At least not yet.