The Spurs get the "boring" label because basketball is supposed to be hard. As San Antonio heads to its fifth finals since 1999, its fourth with its multinational power trio intact, you wonder if they've made some cosmic bargain, or discovered a real-life cheat code, because the alternative—that they're just this good, again—is just exhausting.
San Antonio closed out a sweep of Memphis with a 93-86 win in which they took the lead and never let their guard down long enough to let the Grizzlies get back into it. Zach Randolph, resurgent in Memphis, was held to 30 percent shooting in the series. Mike Conley was shut down. Marc Gasol was never allowed to score 20. This sort of humdrum dominance is infinitely complex, but because of its totality, it manifests itself in absolutes and seems simple, unsexy.
But this is fun! Manu Ginobili going between Tayshaun Prince's legs:
Kawhi Leonard inbounds with a beautiful backdoor bounce-pass to Tony Parker:
Show me another playoff team whose leading scorer is a point guard, a true point guard who also leads in assists and makes everyone he plays with better, and I guarantee that team's not labeled boring. Tony Parker, the youngest of San Antonio's Big Three at age 31, is having the best season of his career, and maybe, just maybe, another finals trip will get him recognized as the league's best right now. Here's his shot chart from last night, after springing for 37 points on 15-of-21 from the field:
But that's the problem when greatness is surrounded by greatness—the superlatives go to the team instead of the individuals. You don't see Parker mentioned as the NBA's top point guard, but he might be. You rarely see Tim Duncan listed as the best power forward of all time, but he probably is. Even Manu Ginobili, still doing his thing into his second decade as the league's most reliable sixth man, can't escape the perception that he's a cog in Gregg Popovich's machine. (Paradoxically, even Popovich doesn't get the credit he deserves, because he gets to coach Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili.)
But nobody fell into anyone's laps; the Spurs have just been a model franchise that does nearly everything right. In 1999, after winning a title, San Antonio used the 57th overall pick on Ginobili, and stashed him for a few years. In 2001, after finishing with the league's best record, the Spurs drafted Parker with the final pick in the first round. The front office has done a remarkable job of fitting the right pieces into the core: Kawhi Leonard is doing Bruce Bowen things, Tiago Splitter is the latest foreign center to thrive in San Antonio.
Dominance is supposed to be fitful. The Lakers' five-title decade was divided neatly into two separate reigns. When the Bulls started winning, they didn't stop as long as they had Jordan. But these Spurs don't do things that way. There's always been a sense that they grasp the long view of NBA fortunes, that an early-round exit isn't necessarily a sign to blow up and start over.
“I was 21 when I won my first one,” Parker said. “You think it’s easy and you’re going to go back every year. In 2007 we won our third one in five years, and you think it’s going to keep coming, and I’m 25, and six years goes by, and every year it gets tougher and tougher. … If we go all the way it’ll definitely be my favorite because it gets harder and harder.”
Listen to the man. This wasn't easy. Even on what seems like cruise control at times, you don't win 58 games and go to the finals without a struggle, not when your crucial pieces are 31, 35, and 37. Boring? There's nothing boring about being really, really good at basketball, no matter how many times it gets rewarded.