The Spurs got blown out by the Grizzlies in Game 4 on Monday night, losing so spectacularly that coach Gregg Popovich pulled out his midseason "call off the dogs" trick and benched his starters midway through the fourth quarter, even though this was a playoff game. In the hours that followed, the idea that this is the end of an era in San Antonio caught steam. Of all the tweets and articles out there, this one from Aaron McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell was my favorite.
Just got a text from a friend. The Spurs window as contenders might run lockout-to-lockout, and that's it.
On the one hand, you can definitely sense that this is a "changing of the guard" series, one we see every so often in the NBA. The Spurs have not been eliminated, but all of their shortcomings have been exposed. The Spurs are small inside, highly dependent on driving and kicking and need their shooters to get open behind the arc. Memphis has great size, tremendous perimeter defenders and has made it an emphasis to chase the Spurs off the three-point line. Therefore, you're seeing what you see now. Combine that with the Spurs' age contrasted to Memphis' youth, and it's tempting to close the book on the Tim Duncan era.
I might be able to accept that, but I'm still not quite there. To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the Spurs' future right now. It seems like we write them off every year, only to see them force their way into the picture. In 2008, we thought they were too old. In 2009, we thought they would never be healthy again. In 2010, we thought they were too reliant on an aging Duncan. What's the issue this year? It's tough to put a finger on it, so naturally, these eulogies have begun.
To me, this still feels like a matchup issue more than anything. In 2007, the Mavericks ran through the league in the regular season, hiding flaws that could have been exposed by the right idiosyncratic team. That team ended up being Golden State, and those flaws were exposed in the first round. The Grizzlies are not the Warriors, but I think they present similar matchup issues with the Spurs. San Antonio had some major flaws this year, but were able to mask them most of the way. Memphis just so happens to be the team most equipped to expose those flaws. If you were daring and insightful in 2007, you would have seen Golden State giving Dallas issues based on their regular-season games. If you were daring and insightful in 2011, you would have seen Memphis doing the same with San Antonio.
Where does that leave us with the Spurs? I'm not sure. Whenever a team relies so heavily on a guy with as many miles as Duncan, it can all go away in a second. But I'm still sticking with the theory that San Antonio just got unlucky to run into a team perfectly equipped to deal with their weaknesses.