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There's no 'I' in Spurs

San Antonio's cohesiveness still makes it team to beat

Posted: Monday May 16, 2005 11:45AM; Updated: Monday May 16, 2005 11:57AM
Manu Ginobili; Tim Duncan
After starting through the regular season, Manu Ginobili has become a 21-point scorer off the bench in the playoffs.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images

I don't want to de-caffeinate your double-shot lattes in Seattle, but the San Antonio Spurs are still on track to win the NBA Championship. Yes, they've lost two straight to the Sonics, and yes, they played like the San Antonio Silver Stars Sunday night. But the Spurs are still the best team in the NBA.

First, a confession: Two months ago, I had to pick a team in SLAM magazine to win the NBA championship. I went with San Antonio. So I'm not exactly unbiased.

At the same time, as a basketball nerd -- someone more interested in matchups, plays and systems than players and alley-oops -- and after spending a few days following the Spurs around earlier this season to write the current SLAM cover story, I saw in the Spurs a few things that are rare these days in the NBA: peace, desire and understanding.

Peace: Drama doesn't exist only on TNT. Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles ... each of these teams was, at one point or another, engulfed by drama. And they weren't the only squads (even Seattle has had issues). Who's the coach? Who's getting traded? Can I get a contract extension? All the usual imbroglios don't happen in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich is the coach, and he'll be around until he's ready to go. What's more, the team's core -- Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili -- are locked up through 2010. Basketball is the focus. The only thing that stirred the pot the last six months in San Antonio was when Tony Parker showed up with Eva Longoria before Game 1 this spring against Denver. And if Eva Longoria doesn't stir the pot, I don't know what does ...

Desire: The one sense I really came away with from San Antonio was how focused everyone was. The players enjoy each other, they know their roles, they win a lot of games, they have sellout crowds almost every night and the people of San Antonio love them. What's left? Championships. Which leads to ...

Understanding: Since everyone knows their place and where they're going to be, there aren't any distractions. Look what happened when Pop benched Ginobili, an all-star, in the Denver series. What happened? They won. These guys know what they're supposed to do. Bruce Bowen gets it that his job is to play defense first and offense only when needed, something Ron Artest has never seemed to grasp.

What does all this have to do with playing basketball? And more specifically, winning the championship this season? To a man, from Spurs general manager R.C. Buford to 12th man Tony Massenburg, everyone in San Antonio talked about the need to get better from day to day. (Popovich likes to compare it to hammering away at a rock until it breaks, and he has this quote posted all over the locker room.) These last two games, the Spurs have laid eggs. Tuesday night, they won't. It's that simple. They'll play better.