Posted May 6 2012 10:06AM
SALT LAKE CITY -- Over there on the other side of the Western Conference playoff bracket, the Thunder are the clarion call of the future.
The Spurs are about now.
The defending champions in Dallas pack up for a summer of rebuilding and recalibrating and fishing.
In San Antonio, they just keep a line in the water.
The Spurs might as well be that stopwatch on 60 Minutes...tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
Nothing matters but the moment.
"Our guys don't think about the last game or the next game," said coach Gregg Popovich. "All they think about is this game."
This night began with the Jazz dropping thousands of balloons from the rafters and it ended with another pinprick from Tony Parker, who scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
In between, the Spurs simply continued their resemblance to a thresher going through a wheat field.
That's 13 straight victories now, their longest winning streak since 2004. That's 26 wins in their last 28 games and a 41-7 record dating back to Jan. 30. They are becoming a machine that Popovich doesn't have to coach, just oil.
"Our goal every night," said Stephen Jackson, "is to do what we do."
Devastating in its simplicity, but not so easily accomplished.
The Spurs are so comfortable in their own skin because Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically grown together like one epidermal layer.
"I think they are experienced enough to realize that an NBA game is 48 minutes and anything can happen," Popovich said. "They know that if they just stick with each other and the system that oftentimes things are going to turn your way. That experience they have gained over a long period of time and I guess they feel comfortable with each other when they're in a tough environment like here in Utah."
When you bring a 2-0 lead in a playoff series onto the road for the first time, you know that you'll have to deal with a wave of energy, emotion and enthusiasm from a team that is fighting for its life.
The Spurs simply let the wave wash over them. It's not about what happens before or after.
Never mind if Jazz point guard Devin Harris spins and whirls like a twister for a dozen points and if Utah shoots 10 free throws in the first quarter alone.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick...There's always that next single moment to grasp.
Nobody, not even within the organization, could have expected all of these parts interlock and function so smoothly. Not the way that a rookie Kawhi Leonard and a journeyman Danny Green have not only made contributions, but slipped into the starting lineup. Not the way Tiago Splitter, in his second NBA season, has become such a crafty and contentious sort around the basket. Not the way the slick skills of Boris Diaw dropped into their laps in the final weeks of the regular season.
After the Thunder eliminated the Mavericks from the playoffs in a sweep on Saturday night they were greeted by a throng of celebrating fans at the airport in Oklahoma City.
After the Spurs pushed the Jazz to a similar brink at 3-0, they were about as excitable as a janitors' union when the topic of conversation turned to brooms.
"We don't think about it," Splitter said. "We just want to play our game, do what coach Pop wants to do. Nobody thinks how many wins we have in a row or whatever. We can lose. Anybody can lose. You gotta keep bouncing back and do our game."
The Spurs have more bounce than a trampoline because they have options to jump on every night. This is a series were Ginobili has scored 4, 7 and 6 points, shot 7-for-22 and nobody panics because everyone pitches in. Here's Jackson with a trio of 3-pointers. There's Gary Neal with a couple more.
"I haven't played well yet and I couldn't care less," Ginobili said. "That's because we're winning games and, as you can see, it looks like we're getting better and better.
"I am not trying to get ahead of myself or put us in any place that we have not yet earned. This is all just the result of the way this team has been put together by the management, coached by Pop and has grown by everyone staying with the plan."
Just as when the Spurs started out the season at only 12-9 there was no wail of worry, now there is no siren of celebration, no rowdy anticipation of great things to come. The sound that comes out of their locker room and off their bench and out of every huddle is the hum of efficiency that's growing louder.
"Now we're going to play the next game the exact same way we have been," said Duncan.
Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is out of reach.
The Spurs are only about now.
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