“We remember what happened last year and how it felt in that locker room. We used it and built on it. And got back here. It’s amazing. It makes last year okay.” — Tim Duncan, after game 5 in 2014
I said on Technical Foul last year that the championship wouldn’t mean as much to Kevin Durant if he won in Oakland instead of Oklahoma City. But there’s something I didn’t realize until these playoffs: maybe it’s not going to mean quite as much to the rest of the Warriors either, compared to if they had won without Durant. Compared to if they had come back with the same team again, as the Spurs had done in 2014 after letting the series slip away the year before.
Kevin Durant was the obvious finals MVP tonight. He was the reason — with help from Zaza Pachulia taking out Kawhi Leonard — that the Warriors coasted through the first few rounds of the playoffs. He was the reason that LeBron James could average a triple double for the finals and it still wasn’t enough.
It was a good NBA regular season. It was a good last few games of the finals. But the playoffs were disappointing to many people because it didn’t look like the Warriors were going to have to work very hard to win. It wasn’t the comeback story it would’ve been without Durant. I’m hoping next year will be different.
538 started a nice series on the case for each of the top 5 MVP candidates. But my favorite MVP article is Matt Bonner’s sandwich analogy for The Players Tribune:
You’re probably getting hungry as you’re reading this, and maybe you’re even thinking about making a sandwich of your own. And that’s smart. Your head’s in the right place. Those ingredients sound really good. The fixings are crucial — and you can’t have your best possible sandwich without them.
It’s not all jokes, though. Matt’s insight into the Spurs system, where you move the ball instead of hogging it, puts Kawhi’s 25.7-point average in perspective:
And since there’s so little ball domination in that system … it makes it pretty impossible for any one player to put up a huge scoring average. Even Tim Duncan — arguably the greatest power forward to ever play the game — never had a season in which he averaged 25.7. And that’s really all you need to know.
Last night, the Spurs lost in Portland by 1 point. It was a game that didn’t matter much, so the Spurs bench finished the game. Portland’s win was mostly a fluke — a Spurs turnover at the end, then a steal that was mishandled and fell to Blazers’ Noah Vonleh for the buzzer-beater layup. But here’s the important point: the Spurs probably wouldn’t have lost if Kawhi was in the game for the final minute.
That’s not to take anything away from the bench. Those guys are great. Living in Austin, we got to watch Kyle Anderson and Jonathan Simmons finish plenty of great games for the D-League. It’s just that San Antonio has played many close games this season, and this is what happens when Kawhi is in the game late.
I’ll be shocked if Russell Westbrook doesn’t win MVP this year. But any of the top 5 candidates deserve it, and Kawhi is focused on other things. Maybe it’s fitting that the award will end up going to a player like Westbrook and his fans who seem to care so much about whether he wins.
I’m watching Spain vs. France basketball right now, and later today is Argentina vs. the United States. No question the United States are the favorites for gold, but there are some really good teams, most with great NBA players.
From the double-overtime win by Argentina a few days ago, to Boris Diaw sipping an espresso in his room, I’ve been more engaged in following basketball at the Olympics than usual. And I love that so many Spurs players are everywhere.
Spain has Pau Gasol; Argentina has Manu Ginobili, who helped defeat the United States in 2004; Australia has Patty Mills; and France has Tony Parker. Gives me something to root for throughout the tournament.