Rolling Thunder

Age and experience will eventually triumph over youth and enthusiasm.

Yeah, right.

(Caveat emptor: this post is water cooler talk about the NBA.)

The San Antonio Spurs are a good team, even a great one.  Tim Duncan has been a force at his position for a long time.  Despite speculation about his age (36 is really getting up there in basketball years), Timmy has been looking good all year, in part because Coach Popovich has stewarded his minutes well.  Tony Parker stepped up all facets of his game to the level that people began talking about a possible MVP nod.

They had the clear momentum going into the playoffs.  They ended the regular season on a 10-game win streak, extending it to 20 by sweeping the Jazz and the Clippers, then winning the first two games at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a club led by a pair of 23-year-olds, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and 22-year-old James Harden.  Heck, my kids are older than that.

When San Antonio won the first two games against OKC, all the commentators lined up to praise the calm, methodical way the Spurs dissected the Thunder.  The latter were respected for their talent, athleticism, and passion, but declared not quite ready for the Big Game.  Everyone predicted a Spurs victory.  So did I.  “Spurs in 6,” I said repeatedly over the past week.

Hoo boy, was I wrong.

Over the next four games, when it came to crunch time, the Thunder played out of their minds, and the Spurs played out of gas.  They took game 5 on the Spurs’ home court, and Popovich called his team out in a press conference: he praised the Thunder for playing like champions, and flatly said that if the Spurs couldn’t win in OKC, they weren’t a championship caliber team.

Duncan and especially Parker responded in the first half of game 6, taking a 15-point lead into the break.  But then they ran out of gas.  By early in the fourth, OKC took the lead and never gave it back.  When the Spurs rallied, the Thunder kept their composure and kept playing their high-tempo game.  And they pulled off a rare upset: you can count on one hand the number of times a team has won four in a row after being down 2-0.

As a guy who’s more on the “age and experience” than the “youth and enthusiasm” end of things, I sort of like that narrative; it compensates for that occasional sense of creeping decrepitude.  And who knows: maybe Boston will pull off the mirror image upset of Miami tonight to keep that age vs. youth narrative alive.

Meanwhile, I have a compromise solution: I’ll root for Derek Fisher, the 37-year-old veteran traded away by a Laker team that was juggling its roster in search of another championship.  Fish landed in OKC–and he’s still got game, playing the whole fourth quarter against the Spurs last night, burying a clutch 3-pointer when San Antonio looked like they might get back into the contest.  Not coincidentally, the Thunder eliminated the Lakers in the second round–who knows how dangerous it might be to have your former point guard, the guy that knows your playbook and weaknesses, playing for the other team?

So here’s a more complicated way of telling the story: the Spurs lost, in part, because they needed more from their younger guys; the Thunder won, in part, because they had more poise than they were given credit for, and had some veteran leadership on the team.  And–perhaps most importantly–they won because the OKC players who don’t usually get the headlines and the glamor stepped up and made big contributions.

In basketball, as in life, it’s about the team, and getting the best from everyone, the stars and the role-players, the young and the old, the enthusiastic and the experienced.

And, frankly, I’d be happy to see Fisher win another championship ring with a team other than the Lakers.