If not for a slight, meaningless touch of DeAndre Jordan’s fingertips on what would have likely been the game-winning shot or a Chris Paul technical foul, the Spurs would probably be down three games to two in their first-round playoff series against the Clippers. What’s remarkable about the fact that they are up a game on the Clips headed into Game 6 aren’t the lucky breaks that got them there, but the fact that they’ve been in a position to enjoy those lucky breaks.
Consider the following facts: Through five games in this series, Tony Parker is shooting 32 percent from the floor, dishing less than three assists per game, and generally moving around the court like a wounded bird. Manu Ginobili is scoring nine points per game and shooting 37 percent for the series. Danny Green, the dead-eye shooter who’s become as important as anyone to the Spurs’ floor-spacing offensive scheme, is 8-for-28 from behind the arc. Tiago Splitter is a wreck who can’t stay on the floor, nobody can really guard Blake Griffin, and Tim Duncan is 39 years old. Tim Duncan is 39 years old!
Nothing listed in the previous paragraph is meant to cast surprise or shock on the Spurs’ 3-2 series lead, because that would misunderstand what this Spurs team has always been about. Watching most teams succeed in the playoffs with a non-functioning starting point guard, a shooting guard who suddenly can’t shoot, and an old and beaten down front court would be cause for some “How the hell are they doing this?” head-scratching, but the Spurs have never been most teams. This is just what they do.
Tony Parker has suddenly become the corpse-like, rim-averse version of himself that we saw at the beginning of the season? No problem, Patty Mills is here to pour in threes. Danny Green is shooting cinder blocks from the corner? It’s all good, Marco Belinelli will just slide in there and hit some shots. Tiago Splitter is hurt and Boris Diaw can’t do a damn thing to stop Blake Griffin? Just let Tim Duncan—who is 39 years old—swallow him up in crunch time while slapping up another dominant 20-10 and playing heavier minutes than he has all season. Also, Kawhi Leonard, who is 23 and was a three-and-D guy not so long ago, is going to run the offense. Oh, and Boris Diaw can also sprinkle in some game-saving jumpers in the final minutes, if he must.
The Spurs have been flattening obstacles and smoothing out lumps that would doom most teams for years now, but it’s still worth stepping back from time to time and appreciating just how easy they make it look. Maybe it’s more noticeable during this series, which has shined a spotlight on the Clippers’ weaknesses—glares at Big Baby and Austin Rivers. Sighs loudly and impatiently at DeAndre Jordan attempting to shoot a free-throw—but they’ve been doing this forever. They’ll probably keep doing it, forever.