Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are all out of awards to chase, but perhaps the unofficial distinction of the best Big Three ever will add a little motivation to their upcoming NBA Finals matchup against the Miami Heat.
Not that they'll need it.
San Antonio's veteran trio has been hungry for another crack at the Heat ever since rotten luck, a bad bounce and Ray Allen's oh-so-predictable corner three made a certain championship win in Game 6 of the 2012-13 Finals evaporate.
Duncan has said as much about the Spurs' desire for retribution, per a postgame interview with David Aldridge on TNT after San Antonio eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals:
It's unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year. But we're back here. We're excited about it. We've got four more to win. We'll do it this time. We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still.
Revenge would certainly be sweet, but these Spurs can also secure some history with a Finals win.
This would be ring No. 4 for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili as a unit. (Remember, Timmy took care of business by himself—and also with David Robinson—when the Spurs won their first title.)
And that fourth ring would really mean something, as it would put this Big Three behind only the hallowed, somewhat mystical Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s and '60s in terms of championships won by a specific core.
Really, though, it's not fair to measure the statistical achievements of those Celtics teams against anything done in the modern era. For one thing, it's difficult to even isolate a clear Big Three on any of those championship clubs.
You had Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy in place as a potent trifecta that won six rings together. But what about John Havlicek? What of Sam Jones? Whither K.C. Jones?
The truth is, those teams didn't have a Big Three. What they had instead was a style of basketball that lacked the specialization, physicality and sophistication of what we see today. Not only that, but there were as few as eight teams in the league back then, and six made the playoffs.
Seasons were shorter too, ranging from 72 games in the mid-'50s to 80 in the early '60s.
Frankly, it was much easier to win titles back then. Sorry, purists: Those Celtics aren't as impressive as they seem.
As we move up through history, additional comparisons arise.
|Russell, Cousy, Heinsohn||1956-63||6||52|
|Bird, McHale, Parish||1980-92||3||85|
|Johnson, Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar||1982-89||3||78|
|Jordan, Pippen, Rodman||1995-98||3||45|
|Duncan, Parker, Ginobili||2002-14||3||113|
The Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won three rings and made five Finals appearances from 1980-92, winning 85 playoff games in the process.
The Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. They collected three championships and made an impressive six appearances in the title round between 1983-1989.
In terms of raw wins, Magic, Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper were the Lakers' most successful trio, but the Spurs' Big Three stormed past their playoff win total in this very postseason:
Maybe Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman are more your speed. Unfortunately for the Chicago trio, San Antonio's Big Three already has a matching three rings and two more Finals visits. Plus, that Chicago bunch won just 45 playoff games together—less than half of San Antonio's total of 113.
Finally, you can forget the early-2000s Lakers as competitors in this category. They won three rings in a row, but unless you count Derek Fisher as a member of a star trio alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, there's no Big Three to be seen here.
More like a Big Two and change.
When it comes to sustained dominance—both in the regular season and the playoffs—the Timmy-Manu-Tony trio is tough to top. More playoff wins than anybody else, a winning percentage that has never dipped below .610 and remarkable resiliency all work in their favor.
Let's just face it, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports:
I'm willing to go ahead and say it. I think this team, this Spurs core that has been together since 2002, when you factor its entire 12 year-and-counting run, is the greatest NBA team of all time. The Chicago Bulls had better players, and much better individual seasons in the 90's. The Lakers and Celtics captured our imaginations the way that this team never has. But going back to when Duncan was drafted, that this team has been so dominant for so long? That this core for 12 years has been this good?
It's fine if you believe it's Russell's Celtics, or Jordan's Bulls, or Magic's Lakers or Bird's Celtics or, if you want to get really inventive, Kobe's Lakers. But that's where I'm at. I've never seen anything like what this Spurs team has done over such a long time.
He wrote that before San Antonio punched its ticket to the Finals this year.
The statistical case is pretty clear, but the circumstances surrounding the Spurs' Big Three's performance add even more oomph.
See, the Spurs have evolved over the years, adding pace and space to a style that was once all about stodgy, unexciting defense. They now feature the most innovative, consistently successful scoring attack in the league.
They also routinely slot in castoffs and get incredible results. Danny Green isn't a starter on any other NBA team. Patty Mills doesn't have a job if not for rehabilitating his career in San Antonio. You get the idea.
Everybody in San Antonio is happy, focused and maximizing his talent, which is a credit to the stability of the Big Three.
They've maintained consistency in an era of NBA reality where it's nearly impossible to get stars to stick together or role players to accept diminished responsibilities. They're an oasis of unselfish, team-first belief in a desert of me-first agendas.
The degree of difficulty for what Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have accomplished is off the charts—far greater than what any other Big Three has faced.
The league is smarter, the athletes are better, the competition is fiercer and the strain of holding it all together has never been more taxing.
But here they are, on the precipice of a fourth ring together.
San Antonio is up against a familiar but daunting foe, led by the best player in the NBA in LeBron James. To get over the hurdle they couldn't clear last season, the Big Three will have to rely on one another to attack the athletically superior Heat with smarts and execution.
Parker will have to beat the traps. Ginobili will have to attack every vulnerable crevice in the Heat's aggressive defensive scheme. Duncan will have to be the resolute force inside, shutting down the lane and directing traffic.
Given their familiarity with and trust in one another, those things shouldn't be a problem for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. And that'll be the beauty of their fourth title (should one be forthcoming): They'll win it together.