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Old 05-22-12, 11:07 PM
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Opinion: The Playoff Eclipse Chronicles

Trying to make sense of the organized chaos at Olympic and Figueroa - Grantland
The Playoff Eclipse Chronicles
The Sports Guy lived to tell the tale of six playoff games in 75 hours, with a street-closing bike race thrown in for good measure
By Bill Simmons

Four hours later, I returned to Staples one final time to watch the Clippers get swept by the Spurs. At this point, all the games felt like they were blending into each other — my head hurt, my back hurt, my voice was scratchy and my concentration was totally shot. Playoff games are simply too intense; they weren't meant to be experienced as a series of events in rapid succession — you know, like Coachella or something — especially because we aren't allowed to do drugs in the stands. And had it been any other basketball team but the Spurs for that sixth and final game, I would have zoned out and said fewer words than Ryan Gosling did in Drive.

But that's the thing — if you love basketball and (more important) love watching basketball played correctly, the 2012 San Antonio Spurs have a way of grabbing your attention. They play beautifully together. They pull for each other. They make each other better. They score so easily, and in so many different ways, that you almost can't even process all the different plays as a whole. On Saturday, they eviscerated the Clippers by scoring 24 straight points in the third quarter, bringing back memories of the '86 Celtics dropping 25 straight against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The biggest difference: The Spurs did it on the road. The biggest similarity: Everything else.2

You don't score 24 straight points because a couple of your guys caught fire. It happens because you're toying with the other team. It happens because you're getting so many good shots in a series that, occasionally, they end up clustering together and forming something special. It happens because you know you're great, and because great teams have a way of smelling blood and finishing opponents off — but also, you're doing it with a little extra flair because you're competing against the ceiling of what you can achieve (not your opponents). The last NBA team that said to itself, "We're playing for something beyond just a title here" was the 2001 Lakers — the best Shaq/Kobe team, as well as the last time those two guys were fully invested in each other's success. It hasn't happened since. It's happening right now, it happened at Staples Center, and it's going to keep happening through next month's Finals (and yes, they're going to win, barring an injury).

Beyond the creative brilliance of Parker and Ginobili, Popovich's superior coaching and Duncan's undeniable rejuvenation on both ends — just three months ago, he played the Clippers on one leg, passed up the chance to post up Caron Butler in big spots and made me mutter the words, "Man, I hate seeing Duncan like this," then something shifted for him, and now, he's playing his best basketball in five years — it's the chemistry of the 2012 Spurs that leaves you breathless. I know, that's a weird thing to write. How can chemistry leave you breathless? But in person, the little things stand out — you know, teammates feeding off each other, bench guys reacting to big plays, players always making the extra pass, guys constantly talking to each other, even simple moments like Duncan gleefully congratulating Danny Green after Green stopped Chris Paul at the end of Game 4. Duncan wasn't happy that Green came through for the Spurs; he was happy for Green as a friend. Big difference.

And once you build a foundation that strong — when guys aren't just teammates but friends, when nobody looks at their numbers, when everything revolves around the question, "What's the best way to win today's game?" — everything else is cake. On Saturday, the Clippers played their best possible basketball for the first 12 minutes, nailed the Spurs with every conceivable haymaker and had their fans standing and screaming. You couldn't have scripted a better first quarter. The Spurs never flinched, chopping the lead to 15 and eliciting the first of many panicked Clippers timeouts. Watching the Spurs and their bench reacting to that moment (totally locked in, totally expecting the Clippers to cave), you could just tell where the game was going. I even tweeted about it. Great teams know they're great. They trust the process. Scores don't matter, crowds don't matter, momentum doesn't matter — eventually, the process will win out. And they know it.

The following night, they staved off another Clippers rally and took a three-point lead with 1:47 to play on Parker's pretty floater, only the 790th easy shot San Antonio had gotten in those past two games. Lob City called a 20-second timeout and Layup City skipped over to its bench to celebrate what just happened. Duncan led the way, a small grin spread across his face, doling out dorky high-fives and generally enjoying himself. That grin said the following four things:

We are better than them. I couldn't be less worried. This game shouldn't have even been this close. Let's go home.

A few minutes later, they did. And so did we. Over everything else that happened during the Playoff Eclipse, I will remember the San Antonio Spurs waltzing through town, laying the smack down and leaving with a smile.
With 26 points on 4 of 4 shots from distance in only 20 minutes of PT. Efficient eviceration.
Wolves' fan: ginobili vs. the wolves is like he's just kind of laughing to himself all game...kind of like he thinks it's cute that they're trying to play basketball.
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Old 05-23-12, 10:29 AM
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KAD KAD is offline
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Leaving with a Smile - love that!
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