The last time I cried in a movie theater was five years ago, but yesterday almost broke that streak. Thanks to a trip out of the country for a few weeks, I had to delay my viewing of Furious 7, the seventh installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise until last night.
After Paul Walker’s death, the release of the film was delayed from last summer to this month, while they figured out a way to rework some of the plot and give his character a fitting exit from the series. And they did (digital Paul Walker > digital 2pac). It’s also nice to know that I’m not the only one that the movie almost, or did reduce to tears (spoilers in article). Despite all of the explosions, car chases, and Rock catch phrases, Furious 7 is really a goodbye letter. And the feeling I got wasn’t as much sadness as appreciation.
Much like The Fast and the Furious was a big part of my formative young adult years, so have the San Antonio Spurs been a big part of my formative basketball years. I’m a die-hard Warriors fan but the Spurs are the only other team I follow on Facebook. I watched basketball for many years, but I didn’t really start to “watch” with intent until the past several and watching the Spurs has been a unique privilege; a memorial to unselfishness, ball movement, and team concepts. The Spurs play like I wish I could.
The Fast and the Furious series will continue on, but it won’t be the same. The movies might get better but will likely be worse. Watching these young NBA playoffs, I’ve gotten a similar feeling that about the Spurs. It’s starting to feel like goodbye.
Since the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan first overall in 1997, they have made the playoffs every season. This year makes it 18 seasons and counting for San Antonio, a remarkable streak in a period of high variance for win-loss totals, and the scrambling for lottery riches by aspiring and deadbeat teams alike.
San Antonio has played 46 playoff series in the Duncan/Popovich era and incredibly they’ve won 34 of them, with an overall playoff W-L record of 149-90 (.623) and those five titles.
This season however, there are a few red flags. In each of their title seasons, the Spurs owned home court advantage in at least three out of the four series. The sole Finals series they lost, they didn’t have home court and dropped Game 7 IN Miami. The Spurs have played 10 series without home court over their run. They are an even 5-5 in those series, with a pedestrian 26-29 (.472) record.
Compare those figures to their .668 win percentage and 29-7 series record with home court and that loss to New Orleans on the final day of the season that knocked the Spurs from the #2 to the #6 seed looms large.
This is part of the reason I found it strange that most prognosticators (and Vegas) picked the Spurs as the favorites in their 3/6 match-up in the First Round. Then they came out and got shellacked in Game 1 by a motivated Clippers team that shut down the Spurs offense and got big games from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
We should not overreact to one game, the Spurs recovered and clung desperately to a win in overtime last night. There are definite avenues the Spurs can take to win this series. With the way that Doc Rivers has to ride his starters in an effort to avoid a truly abysmal bench (of his own creation it should be mentioned), the longer this series trundles on the better it will be for the Spurs. But I’m not convinced it lasts that long. They are missing a healthy Tiago Splitter (Aron Baynes’ corpse nods grimly), and they don’t have a good defensive match-up for Chris Paul that doesn’t kill their spacing on offense. With Tony Parker ailing, Patty Mills’ sudden resurgence provides hope. But then, who else?
Even if the Spurs do make it through, they’re likely looking at a Rockets team in Round 2 (without home court) and then another road-bound series against one of Golden State or Memphis that will be their undoing.
Over the past couple seasons it’s been en vogue to write about the demise of the Spurs, only to be shouted down. But to me this feels like the time is here. It feels like goodbye.
The cap expansion that’s coming in the summer of 2016 and 2017, where the cap is expected to jump to $90 million then as much as $110 million might be one summer too late for the Spurs which have their summer of uncertainty now. Both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are restricted free agents this summer and are up for max (or near-max in the case of Green) extensions. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both expiring as well and could retire. And if Duncan retires, my feeling is that Popovich may follow suit (unless he turns out to be a coaching robot sent from the future which is admittedly a possibility).
As long as Popvich stays, it’s probably unwise to write off anything. But last season’s title seems to be a fitting coda for this team, built on the backs of an all-time great player and an all-time great coach. I’ll keep watching them, just like I’ll probably see every Fast and Furious movie when they come out. Because even if it’s not quite the same in the present, you get a chance to remember the past.