By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
That tweet, from one fan to another, basically sums up the ongoing National Basketball Association playoffs.
The streaking San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the NBA right now, and it’s not a close race as they try to capture another world title under longtime coach Gregg Popovich.
In a league where the superstars are often hyped to the max — such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin — basketball is still a team game and the current Spurs are proving it right now — ahead 3-0 on the Los Angeles Clippers in their series, 7-0 in the playoffs, riding a 17-game winning streak and having won 28 of their last 30 games.
If you watched the Spurs fall behind by 24 points to the dangerous Clippers in the first half on Saturday in L.A., you might have questioned San Antonio’s mettle. But in the third quarter, the Spurs dug deep defensively and outscored the stunned hosts 24-0 during one stretch to grab an eight-point lead at the end of the period.
San Antonio then just played steady basketball the rest of the way, made free throws down the stretch and walked away with an impressive 96-86 win — one that former L.A. Laker great Magic Johnson called “beautiful team basketball.” Fellow NBA analyst Jon Barry, another ex-NBA player, said the Spurs play “surgical” in slicing up their opponents — throughout the playoffs, Barry has described San Antonio as the best team in the NBA.
This fact is simple: The Spurs are not going to beat themselves. In a 48-minute game on Saturday against the Clippers, the Spurs just stayed the course, executed offensively and defensively, and handed Griffin & Co. a valuable lesson.
“They came out like we expected, very strong. Blake was making crazy shots,” point guard Tony Parker told reporters. “We just took our time. It’s a long game, a very long game. At halftime, we were very calm.”
That’s San Antonio’s experience, led by highly respected veterans Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. That remarkable trio sets the table at both ends of the court and Spurs management has done a terrific job at adding good young players or veteran role players the past three seasons to support their potent nucleus. And while outsiders push the myth that “the Spurs are too old,” the Spurs proved with their NBA season-best record during the regular season and top seed in the playoffs that they’re a legitimate title contender.
Parker led San Antonio on Saturday with 23 points and his defense on Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul was instrumental in sparking the come-from-behind victory. Paul finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds but shot poorly from the floor while being harassed by double and triple teams in San Antonio’s aggressive halfcourt defense.
Duncan, at age 36 and finally playing injury-free, had 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots while containing the explosive Griffin. The young L.A. star had 28 points and 16 rebounds, but only eight of those points came in the second half when the Spurs’ defense shut down the Clippers’ halfcourt offense, highlighted by that amazing 24-0 run in the third quarter.
Fast-developing rookie Kawhi Leonard, out of San Diego State, followed Duncan with 14 points and the versatile Ginobili had 13 points.
But with this Spurs’ squad, Parker is the man who controls everything, and everyone on the team, including Popovich, knows it.
“Tony really ran the show well,” Popovich said. “I’d say, ‘Let’s do this’ and he said, ‘No, let’s do this,’ and we’d do it.”
When L.A. tried to make a run late in the fourth quarter, Parker led the way, scoring seven points over a three-minute stretch to keep the visitors ahead by 10.
“We follow his lead. He stuck with it, made some big shots down the stretch and continued to attack,” Duncan said. “He was playing defense really hard and got up into Chris.”
The Spurs again showed their efficiency on both sides of the court and took away or limited their opponents’ strengths. The Spurs want to play a halfcourt game and that frustrates running teams like the Clippers, Heat, Thunder and Lakers.
San Antonio is no longer one dimensional on offense, blessed with some excellent 3-point shooters. If Duncan posts and the opponent doubles, he’ll just hit one of the open shooters and the Spurs led the NBA in 3-point shooting this past season. The Spurs also like to have Duncan and Parker play off the screen and role which puts added pressure on the defense. Ginobili doesn’t handle the ball as much as in the past, but he’s capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor once he catches it.
But it’s the Spurs’ total package with talent and experience that has them streaking toward an NBA title. And it’s nice to see a team just play the game the right way — with intensity, intelligence and respect for their opponent, not saddled with the dysfunctional drama as seen in Miami and with the Lakers.
Hall of Famer Bill Russell once said, “In a best-of-7 series, the best team always wins.”
With the way the Spurs are playing, it’s hard to bet against them — in a 48-minute game or a seven-game series. Just ask the Clippers, who are sitting on the edge of being swept today in Game 4 in L.A.
Email Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear at email@example.com.