Throughout the 2012-2013 NBA season, the stalwart San Antonio Spurs have surprised no one by making their 16th straight playoff appearance, utilizing the same familiar tools: consistency, efficiency and execution. However, the 4-time NBA champions have not tasted the finals since their sweeping of the young Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007.
Those whose memory don't recall anything before 2007 will see the Spurs as a team who dominates the regular season, then deflates in the postseason. However, the season-ending knee injury of the Thunders' Russell Westbrook has given carte blanche to the Western Conference. With Tim Duncan's resurgence and a fully healthy roster, 2013 may be the Spurs' best chance at a return to the finals.
The sweep of the broken Los Angeles Lakers came as a surprise to very few. Kobe Bryant was out of the picture, Steve Nash and Steve Blake were hobbled and an apparent lack of team-coach chemistry sealed the Lakers' first round fate.
Now, with a young and hungry Golden State Warriors team, the Spurs will get a taste of real postseason competition. Led by the insane shooting of Stephen Curry, the run-and-gun Warriors will require the Spurs to control the pace or crank up their oxygen tanks.
Last night's oscar-worthy double-overtime comeback gave basketball fans a royal treat and Spurs' fans a proud moment and a question to ponder. Second-seeded San Antonio was chasing the tail of the Warriors all night, shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and trailing almost the entire game.
The question is this: Was that just rusty shooting coming off a lengthy rest, or an effective and quick defense from the youthful Warriors? Probably a little bit of both. I still will give the Spurs the advantage, as experience and execution generally triumphs over youth and pure shooting in the playoffs. This could be shaping up to be a beautiful series.
The keys to the Spurs' success in the offseason really hasn't changed over the last ten years. Big performances from the big three will be essential and the bench will have to show up. Luckily, Duncan has forgotten what it means to age.
The 37-year-old (67 in NBA years) has displayed breathtaking flashes from his glory days throughout this entire season. It's now to the point where saying "Vintage Duncan" really means "Now Duncan." Timmy even seems to be having a little fun. He finished top-10 in MVP voting this year and is continuing to show why he is a top-10 all-time player.
Tony Parker is looking healthy and fully recovered from the ankle injury that hampered him in early March, spinning, cutting and tear-dropping like his usual self. Manu Ginobili, too, is healthy and continuing to come up clutch and produce big numbers in small minutes. Charles Barkley's chant is probably getting old by now but what the heck, why not? GINOBILIIIII!!!!!!!
Coach Gregg Popovich has dubbed Kawhi Leonard the future of this franchise, and the sophomore small forward will need to show what he's made of with his usual stellar defense, 3-point efficiency and smart play. Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and the rest will be essential in allowing the Big Ol' Three rest by showing up and doing so consistently.
And there's always Pop. Having the greatest coach in the game right now never hurts your chances of a finals return. Coach Popovich is the smartest strategist in the league and is able to out-think just about any opponent's playmaker.
There's no question the window is ever-closing on this squad's dream of a fifth ring. Assuming they make it past Golden State with oxygen still in their tanks, they will face either a stifling frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the Grizzlies, or a fast, powerful and playoff tested Thunders squad. And although athletic freak Westbrook is out of the picture, you can never count out a squad who has the second best player in the world in Kevin Durant. Not to mention a very competent coach in Scott Brooks.
The Spurs chances are as good as they could hope for right now. With health, experience, grit and chemistry, this squad has a real chance of a finals meeting with what will likely be the Miami Heat, a confident juggernaut hell-bent on defending their title. With last season's disappointing postseason collapse, San Antonio knows the time is now.
Though the task is weighty, the Spurs do have a little bit of historic luck going their way: It is an odd year.