Monday, May 19, 2008

Old Spurs survive young, feisty Hornets


Watching the final quarter of San Antonio's 91-82 Game 7 win over New Orleans reminded me of a classic father-son rivalry.

There's the father, who has always been able to beat his son in games of one-on-one by using his strength and developed skills. Now, however, his son has caught up to him in those two departments, but still can't quite beat Dad. But he scratches and claws, making the old man sweat and breathe hard.

Such was the case Monday in New Orleans, as San Antonio's seemingly insurmountable 15-point lead entering the fourth quarter wilted all the way down to three ... because of the play of Jannero Pargo?

Yep, that's no typo. The Hornets' precocious superstar Chris Paul stood idle while Pargo revved his engine every time down the floor, sometimes not even waiting for his teammates. But Pargo was able to score against a Spurs team that appeared just a bit slower and fatigued than they were during the first three quarters.

The jitterbug backup point guard glided by defensive stalwart Bruce Bowen (36 years old) for a pair of runners ... the lead was down to 10.

He drew a foul on All-Star Tim Duncan (32) and converted both free throws ... make that an eight-point game.

Then there was the huge 3-pointer, which came off of three New Orleans offensive rebounds, that cut the Spurs' advantage to a precarious three points, 83-80.

Alas, there was no dream comeback for Pargo, 28, and his even younger teammates. The spurt came too little, too late, and when San Antonio's own fast, slithery point guard Tony Parker -- he's only 26, but he's got three championship rings -- nailed a midrange jumper with 50 seconds remaining, the old was moving on while the young will have to wait for next year.

"I think finally the experience helped a little bit," Parker said afterward.

And good thing it came through this time around, because who knows how much longer aging teams like the Spurs will be able to fend off the up-and-coming squads such as the Hornets.

Maybe very soon, but Monday was all about San Antonio's veterans -- the stars, the role players and the is-he-still-playing? guys.

It started with Duncan, whom you can simply watch and see how greatly he impacts a game (you don't need to check the box score). From the opening tip, the Spurs -- as they always do -- ran their offense through the 2002 and '03 MVP, and he was aggressive with his post-up moves.

New Orleans didn't want to double-team him, but when they didn't, he was too smart and still strong enough to score easily. So they doubled him almost every possession, and Duncan is as good as anybody at passing out of the post.

It's one thing when Manu Ginobili is hitting his outside shots; he's usually going to get his points unless he simply misses shots. But the killer Monday was that San Antonio's other guys, the glue of the team when it's at its best, entered the game and made huge 3-pointers.

Yes, the old fogies. They can't jump liked they used to, they can't run liked they used to. But even a 57-year-old can make set shots.

In the first half, it was seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry (37) -- yes, he still plays meaningful minutes in the playoffs -- making two huge 3s to help the Spurs take a 51-42 halftime advantage.

In the pivotal third quarter, it was Michael Finley (35) who quickly got out of a shooting slump with two huge triples as the Spurs built that commanding double-digit lead.

There was just one San Antonio 3 in the fourth quarter -- by newcomer Ime Udoka -- but the damage had already been inflicted. The Spurs finished with 12 3-pointers, including six by the trio of Horry, Finley and Bowen.

Not bad for a group of old grumps.

Of course, it shouldn't be forgotten that while Ginobili is just 30, he has a very pronounced bald spot. So maybe he, and his game-high 26 points and four 3s, should be considered an antique as well -- albeit, a very valuable antique.

What matters is that the Spurs showed, once again, that experience can trump youthful talent, if just barely. There's a reason they give the ball to Duncan on almost every offensive possession when he's in the game. Whether he makes a move or not, the play usually creates a better scoring opportunity.

As great as Pargo's fourth-quarter rally was, it glossed over the fact that the runner-up for the MVP, Paul, barely touched the ball in the period, making a single basket and basically becoming a nonfactor as he watched Pargo go to work.

Pargo can't really be blamed, however. Someone had to step up, and step up quickly. He was the first one to raise his hand. But the fact that New Orleans completely went away from its bread-and-butter when its season was on the line speaks to how inexperienced the Hornets still are.

This was only Paul's second season, and it was just the second in New Orleans for Peja Stojakovic, who had a horrendous game with seven points. The Hornets all get along, but they still need to build their on-court chemistry to the point where they know what to do in critical moments.

That's something they can learn from watching the Spurs in the next round.

As for San Antonio, it only gets harder from here. A well-rested Lakers team will likely push the Spurs to the brink. And this time, it will be more like taking on an uncle than a son. LA's Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, at least, know what it takes to win a championship.

But don't expect the Spurs to back down when the going gets nasty and proclaim, "It's your turn to win."

Because especially for the old-timers, they want to tell their grandchildren one day that they repeated as NBA champions.

Before taking them out in the driveway for a little young vs. old.

1 comment:

Sportsattitude said...

As I write this, the Spurs are down 0-2 to the Lakers and still smarting from their Game 2 pasting...probably having L.A. right where they want them. San Antonio found a way against the Hornets and will find a way to get back into the Lakers' series as well. I thought the Hornets played young and tentative in Game 7 and expected much more than they delivered. Even in exceeding expectations for this season, they demonstrated a high level of play that they just didn't achieve when they needed to the most. Taking nothing away from the Spurs, but New Orleans looked collectively scared in the finale.