This one is for patience, pertinacity and pipe dreams.
As the San Antonio Spurs' draining and demoralizing NBA Finals drought ended with a 93-86 triumph at FedExForum on Monday night, they exorcised six years' worth of postseason demons and split the rock in two for a fifth time with what seemed like the 401st blow. They pounded the rock so much even the axe and the rock came to life to tell them to give it a rest.
The Spurs put the chippy, scoring-challenged Memphis Grizzlies in the rearview mirror thanks to Tony Parker's 37-point magnum opus. They also subdued Tennessee's roaring basketball bears thanks to all the heartbreak and devastating failure that has reigned in the Alamo City since that glorious fourth title run in 2007.
Let the dedications commence for the 2013 Western Conference champions.
This one's for a 13-hour delay on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong International Airport in 2008 and the Game 1 collapse against the L.A. Lakers that followed.
The Spurs offense in that Western Conference Finals pratfall would have made these Grizzlies raise a collective eyebrow. Tim Duncan was brilliant then, but a half-empty Manu Ginobili meant no chance.
This one's for Brandon Bass and J.J. Barea helping the Dallas Mavericks steal the playoff opener at the AT&T Center in 2009 with then uncharacteristic displays of shot making and crunch-time defense. Bass nailed jump shot after jump shot, and many pundits credited Barea for handcuffing Parker in the final frame.
This one's for Ginobili, who watched every minute of that excruciating five-game, first-round flameout in street clothes.
Ryan Hollins blocking Duncan in the final minutes of Game 4 to seal a Dallas victory that yielded a 3-1 series lead added Lisa Lampanelli-level insult to injury. Where the Spurs would go from there remained a mystery—even the Hardy Boys tag teaming with Sherlock Holmes and Adrian Monk would have been hard pressed to solve.
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford tried to crack the code when he flipped the expiring contracts of Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas and Bruce Bowen for Richard Jefferson that summer. He inked Hall of Fame-caliber teammate Antonio McDyess to a mid-level deal, and it seemed as if the San Antonio front office had jimmied open Duncan's championship window.
Jefferson, though, never clicked as a two-way Spurs contributor and was relegated to standing in a corner to wait for kick-out passes and open three-pointers in his final year wearing silver and black.
McDyess played herculean post defense but proved no match for the misfortune that derailed his final NBA employer in consecutive seasons. He came to the Spurs with an empty hole, hoping to fill the void with that elusive championship but exited in 2011 with an even emptier feeling.
Upending the second-seeded Mavericks as a seventh seed just set up the Spurs for a distressing sweep at the hands of Alvin Gentry's Phoenix Suns.
Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, forever torched and tortured by their Gregg Popovich-coached nemesis, extinguished the Spurs' faint flicker of a title-worthy flame.
This one is for Goran Dragic impersonating Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that 2010 joust.
Except, even His Airness and the Black Mamba never scored 23 points in a fourth quarter at the AT&T Center. No one has accomplished that astonishing feat since. All Gentry could do that night was slap the scorer's table in disbelief and yell, "Jesus Christ!" His bellowing was audible in the upper bowl where I witnessed that one-man demolition live.
If the dedications ceased there, the scene at FedExForum on Monday night would never have meant as much.
This one is for Ginobili breaking his arm on a freak play on the 2010-2011 campaign's final night.
The initial diagnosis of a hyper-extended elbow gave way to something much worse. Lionel Hollins conceded the final two matches of the regular season and steered his upstart Grizzlies in the Spurs' direction.
Who cares if Memphis' coach selected that first-round matchup on purpose? This one is for having to be the unlucky opponent to take the powerful first punch.
The Grizzlies' record against title contenders that year: 2-2 vs. L.A. Lakers, 2-2 vs. Spurs, 3-1 vs. the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, 3-1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 1-1 vs. Chicago Bulls, 1-1 vs. Miami Heat and 1-1 vs. the Boston Celtics. Name another eighth seed in professional sports history with that resume. I'm waiting...
Memphis would have given any of those squads trouble in the opening round.
Oklahoma City had time to prepare for the coming onslaught and still needed seven games to dispatch the supposed underdogs. The Grizzlies were one triple-overtime loss from a 3-1 series lead, and they won Game 6 at home. Think about that.
This one is for Shane Battier's Game 1 go-ahead triple and for Zach Randolph's last-second trey. Do the Grizzlies win the series sans those monstrous shots? Even Hollins could not hesitate if asked that question now.
This one is for how tentative and inefficient Parker was against Mike Conley in a revealing exodus. With the NBA headed for labor doomsday, there was no guarantee Parker, Ginobili and Duncan would suit up together again.
The lockout ended, but the torment did not.
The Spurs won 20 games in a row stretching through the first two outings of the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Then Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant and James Harden happened. Derek Fisher just had to be there to help OKC rip out San Antonio's collective ticker. He wasn't a bystander, either. He drilled big shots in the fourth quarters of Games 5 and 6.
This writer opined after the crushing collapse that Duncan should consider retirement, given the routine despair gripping San Antonio following each May egress.
This one is for Duncan and Co. punching a ticket to the NBA Finals when a fan who should have known better stopped believing it was possible.
This one is for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard smothering Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson after a pair of terrifying eruptions at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs' sedulous defense rules again. It locked up the Grizzlies' middling, sputtering offense the way most expected the West's runner-up to do to the conference's representative in the championship bout.
Given that, this one is also for those who picked the Lakers, Warriors and Grizzlies to topple the Spurs in these playoffs and especially those who thought Memphis would bulldoze San Antonio. This gem is one example of that foolhardy take.
Tiago Splitter never allowed Marc Gasol or Randolph to get comfy near the basket. Duncan, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw also took turns beating up the two interior towers who were supposed to beat the Spurs to an unrecognizable pulp. Wait, weren't Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bogut supposed to do that?
The Randolph who could hit a 20-footer with McDyess's hand flossing his teeth or a blindfold on never showed up in this sweep. For the first time since 2007, the Spurs didn't bluff.
A Tony Allen phrase that became a Memphis mantra seems appropriate here.
All heart. Grit and grind. OK, the Spurs also have a Hall of Fame-bound trio, the league's best coach, a precision offense, a host of unassuming, fabulous role players and a revitalized defense to match the dynamic scoring. The phrase still applies.
Gary Neal never pouted, even as his role shrunk. He kept shooting and busting his butt even when his shot wouldn't fall.
Patty Mills embodied professionalism from his first minutes as a Spur and was the first to celebrate every other teammates' triumphs with a towel wave and a genuine smile. It says here, though, that San Antonio owes a few of its 50 and 57 regular-season wins these last two years to its never-gun-shy Australian backup guard.
DeJuan Blair earned himself a long-term extension of his NBA gig, even if that continuation does not happen in San Antonio.
Cory Joseph's relentless defense coupled with unexpected stretches of scoring excursions made him more than an accessory.
Tracy McGrady didn't play much, but he didn't say much, either, which is a credit to him.
Nando De Colo never quite found his footing as an NBA-level guard but has plenty of room and time to get there. He helped the Spurs stay competitive on nights when Popovich opted to rest his Big Three, and in some cases, Leonard and Green.
Most of all, this one is for the trio that has made the Spurs' sustained excellence possible.
Every time the Grizzlies tried to rally and avoid the sweep Monday night, Parker came up with a magnificent answer. He sent a clear message in bombarding the rim early and often: This series is not going back to San Antonio.
Duncan reigned supreme in two consecutive overtimes and was heroic on both ends. He deserves more credit than I can give him in this column. That will come later.
Ginobili, aging but sometimes still ageless, alternated wild passes and moronic heaves with just enough of his winning DNA. No one during his time in the pros has competed harder or with more reckless abandon.
There is still work to do against Miami or Indiana. Yet, too much time has elapsed between finals appearances for San Antonio to dismiss winning the West as just another step in a process.
This one is for patience, pertinacity and pipe dreams.
No more tarmac delays. No more collapses. No more finishing two victories short.
This one is for the Spurs. The Western Conference champion Spurs.
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