Spurs on brink of perhaps more than elimination

ByJ.A. Adande ESPN logo
Friday, May 1, 2015

SAN ANTONIO -- There's something about the San Antonio Spurs -- who were always more about grabbing a wrench to tighten the details than using a brush to paint the big picture -- that says they can tolerate an ending, they just can't take it ending like this.

They can't go out in the same manner in which they uncharacteristically blew a chance to eliminate an opponent at home, a night when, as Marco Belinelli put it, "We didn't play like the Spurs."

"At moments, it looked like we were in mud," Danny Green said.

"Soft" was the adjective Gregg Popovich used.

Fix first, reflect later. There's too much to work on before Game 7 on Saturday for the Spurs to take much time to wax on about What This All Could Mean.

But you know. And deep inside, they know. They even know that you know. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili aren't under contract for next season. The Duncan-Ginobili-Tony Parker-Gregg Popovich quartet that's been the most prolific and productive in NBA history by many measures could be one loss away from breaking up.

"It's something that you've got to be thinking [about]," Ginobili said late Thursday night. "I don't know what is going to happen. What I do know is there's going to be a Game 7 in two days. And that's the only thing I can manage, that's the only thing I can think of. That's the only thing I can take care of. I'll try to do my best, the team is going to try to do their best, and from there you keep living."

That last line was the most in tune the Spurs sounded all night. Life will continue. They're good at placing things in perspective and moving forward. Life continued for them after perhaps the most heartbreaking defeat in NBA Finals history in 2013. So did the championships, as it turned out.

Now they have to find a way to make it go on. They have to fight off the accumulated wear of 185 playoff games together, including 50 since 2013. They have to fight off a feisty Clippers team that could be empowered after finally figuring out a way to win a close playoff game against them.

Kawhi Leonard must play in the manner befitting the franchise's anointed next star, not along the lines of the 8-for-31 shooting that afflicted him the past two games. Parker can't score in single digits, as he has in half of the six games played this series. Ginobili, too -- same stat applies to him. Green must find his wayward jumper; he has made only 29 percent of his 3-pointers in the series.

How do they snap back into character after straying so far from their usual lane?

This was only the fifth time in 19 tries under Popovich that the Spurs could not eliminate an opponent while playing at home. They had won seven consecutive times in this situation, dating back to 2006.

Their best chance is to believe that advancing age has not yet surpassed experience, that the collective wisdom and poise gained from all of their success will manifest.

"Eh, you hope a little bit," said Parker, not fully buying the premise. "But anything can happen in a Game 7."

The problem is the Clippers now feel that way, too. The Spurs don't have to win because they're the Spurs, the Clippers don't have to lose because they're the Clippers. All of the history that preceded this moment didn't determine the outcome of Game 6. The Clippers determined it, with a fourth quarter that featured 53 percent shooting, two important, late free throws by Jamal Crawford and only one turnover. This time,Blake Griffin was as strong at the end as he was at any point in the game, with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and not a single miss from the field or free throw line in the final 11 minutes of his 41-minute night.

The Clippers fully grasp both what it will take to beat the Spurs and what it would mean to beat the Spurs.

"This is a great team, great organization," Chris Paul said. "A lot of us on our team have been watching these guys since we were kids. You just see them do the same thing over and over again. It's been a lot of fun.

"But," and here he knocked on the table for effect, "it all comes down to Game 7."

For the Spurs, it's possible it all could come down to Game 7. A dozen years whittled down to 48 minutes. The blessing of their time together, the burden of sustaining it.

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