Greg M. Schwartz
It was a bitterly disheartening evening for the Spur Nation last night, as fans watched their team slide across the spectrum from the best of times to the worst of times. When the Spurs jumped out to an early 19-point lead over the Portland Trailblazers, it looked as if the silver and black were getting their mojo back. Roger Mason was dropping threes, Tony Parker was taking the Blazers apart and visions of a strong playoff run seemed reasonable.
But the way the young Blazers stormed back to cut that lead to two by halftime put a damper on those visions. The second half even more so, as the Spurs wound up getting buried 95-83. When the Blazers opened up a seven-point fourth quarter lead behind the electrifying play of LaMarcus Aldridge and the sharp shooting of Brandon Roy and Tony Fernandez, Spurs fans were wondering how Tony Parker and Tim Duncan could both be allowed to sit on the bench during this critical stretch. But the painfully inconvenient truth became crystal clear shortly after Duncan and Parker were reinserted, when Duncan was removed again just thirty seconds later. Coach Gregg Popovich saw that Duncanís ailing knees would prevent him from being effective after he failed to come close to grabbing a loose ball, and the future Hall of Famer was promptly removed.
You could feel the air sucking out of the AT&T Center and probably the Spursí season at that point. This was the type of loss that has a devastating impact on the collective psyche as fans are suddenly gripped with The Fear.
ďConsidered a contender just a week ago, the Spurs are now fighting just for homecourt advantage in the first round,Ē said the talking heads on ESPN after the game. Life can turn on a dime sometimes, and so too the fortunes of a professional basketball team. In some circles, sports fans refer to a game like this as the day the season ended. The angst is even more palpable for the Spur Nation today though, as Duncanís knee problems could signal the end of the dynasty that brought four titles over the past ten years.
Some fans were quick to say they wished Manu Ginobliís season-ending ankle injury had occurred sooner, so that the team could have tanked the season to get into the draft lottery. This was a ridiculous notion. Teams that still have the core of a championship roster do not tank games to try and get into the lottery, especially when theyíve held on to the two-seed in the conference for most of the season. Other fans are lamenting the fact that the Spurs didnít seize an opportunity to trade for Vince Carter at the deadline, but such hindsight is 20/20 ó who knew Ginobli would go down again for the season?
Most fans seemed resigned to the fact that this is probably it, though a few die-hards still hold out hope for a miracle. But unless that miracle comes in the form of a miraculous healing to Tim Duncanís ailing knees, it looks like this playoff run will be a short one. The fact that there are no back-to-back games in the playoffs could help Duncan, but he seems to have reached a point where you never know what youíre going to get from him on a given night, which does not bode well. The mileage seems to finally be catching up to the Big Fundamental.
Almost any NBA team would be down and out if you subtract two of the teamís top three players, so thereís no shame involved, but certainly some bad luck to lament. Some fans call out Popovich for not playing certain players as much as they think he should, but the guy has won four titles ó he hasnít suddenly become a bad coach overnight. Even the greatest generals canít win a war if they donít have the troops, as the old maxim goes.
The Spurs are now tied for third place in the conference with Portland and Houston. But even holding on to that seed could prove perilous, as it would currently land a matchup with the sixth seeded New Orleans Hornets, a team the Spurs really do not want to see in the first round, after being pushed to seven games in their playoff series last year. But after last nightís debacle, itís hard to figure which team would present a better matchup for the Spurs at this point.
Get out your prayer wheels/beads/candles or whatever you use to make contact with the higher power Spurs fans, because that miraculous healing to Duncanís knees would seem to be the only thing that can save the Spurs nowÖ