There are sections of basketball fans who seem to be dreading the possibility of a Spurs-Pacers finals. The vast majority wants the Miami Heat in the finals, but if the Pacers do make it against the odds, it would pit two defensive minded teams, not big on flashy play, against each other. Would that really be such a bad thing?
The dichotomy of the Spurs
We were taught that winning changes everything. All a team needs to do to get a widespread fan base, have its jerseys worn on all street corners, and be in one word- popular is win. And the rest will take care of itself. We saw that with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. After stooping below sea level in likability, they provided a perfect villainous counterfoil to the Dallas Mavericks to emerge as not just champions, but as the vanquishers of evil itself. Then last season, the Heat won the title, and with it, the story arc changed from one of super-villain level betrayal to one of redemption and salvation for LeBron and co. Suddenly the focus shifted to the agony they must have suffered in being hated for excellence. Winning changed things for them. As it should for all teams.
The logic seems faultless, but the San Antonio Spurs seem to be the exception to this rule. Of all the teams in the NBA, no other team has been as consistently brilliant as the Spurs have been over the last two decades. And yet guys like Duncan, Parker or Ginobili don’t enjoy the level of popularity, which is reserved for household names across the league. This big three has been scorching its way to over fifty wins time and time again, so much so that we take their near faultless execution for granted.
They don’t throw down rim rattling dunks, but Ginobili and Parker have more than enough flash and flair to entertain. Yet, the team as a whole is not perceived as entertaining. A lot of it has to do with them playing in San Antonio; if they were in New York city or Los Angeles, perhaps they would be more popular. San Antonio is not a very small market but there are bigger cities for an NBA team.
The Spurs have won four championships in the Tim Duncan era. Talk about consistency. One reason the Spurs have been so consistent is that they have always kept a steady stream of role players coming in and transcending their potential. Gregg Popovich gives young players a chance. He puts them in a grinder, and those who come through the other side get to carve out their niche in the most consistent system in the league. Tony Parker is a prime example. As a rookie, his play was exasperating to Popovich, but Parker still played good minutes season after season and evolved into an MVP candidate. Even though he was way less than perfect, Popovich stuck by him and moulded him into the superstar that he is today.
One downside of this, if you can call it that, is that the Spurs have never been heavy on pursuing the big name free agents. Their superstars are not quite household names, and their role players are even further away from being so. The team has never bothered about not being in the spotlight, they toil in relative obscurity and that’s fine with them.
Looking across towards Indiana, we find another team which is fanned for its defense and has start players in Paul George and Roy Hibbert, who are not household names, regardless of how good they are. Granted that those two are relatively new faces compared to the big three of the Spurs, but they are playing at superstar levels right now.
Without Hibbert getting 20 and 10 time and time again, the Pacers would probably have been swept by now. The Heat don’t seem to have an answer to counter his offensive rebounding and inside scoring. Haslem got the better of Hibbert on offense in the Heat’s latest win by stretching the floor, but for the most part, Hibbert has been indisputably the best big man on the floor. Provided he continues that trend, the Pacers may just pull off an upset over the defending champions. There is no question that Paul George is on his way to being a superstar in this league and, yet, his star power isn’t big enough to make the Pacers seem like a really exciting team.
Fans of the sport will love to watch the Spurs and Pacers lock horns, just as they would love to see the Heat battle the Spurs. All three are quality teams and any match-up they pose will be entertaining. But the Heat have star power, which dwarfs that of other teams, and make the Spurs and Pacers seem bland by comparison.
For me, a Spurs-Pacers finals would be an exciting contest. Hibbert using his size versus Duncan. George Hill lighting up his former team. Paul George perhaps winning the Finals MVP. Popovich getting his hands on his fifth ring. There are numerous exciting storylines to go along with this matchup. We just need to ignore the Heat for a moment to realise that a Spurs-Pacers finals won’t really be a bad thing.