The 2013 NBA Playoffs and their thrilling conclusion proved a number of things, but one that sticks out is that even in this era of superteams, the championship is really up for grabs every year. Or, put more bluntly, the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder or the L.A. Lakers aren't invincible. The San Antonio Spurs obviously benefited from the injury troubles that plagued L.A. and knocked out OKC, but it still counts. The Spurs were still a made free throw from a championship in Game 6, and a Tim Duncan bunny from making Game 7 another wind-the-seconds-down festival of grind and nerves.
The Spurs were so close to winning this thing after being an afterthought in preseason prognostications. This season ended up unlike 2012 in many ways: last year, the conventional wisdom was that the Heat and Thunder would finally meet in the Finals, as decreed by the fates, with Miami getting a title. It happened! This year most analysts predicted that Miami and either OKC or the Lakers would face off. San Antonio upended that.
Some of that is the magic of San Antonio. This isn't the first fairy tale narrative Duncan, Tony Parker and the crew have destroyed with reckless abandon. But it's the most stunning. In his post-game address to the crowd, LeBron James told Miami that he wasn't supposed to be there, citing his childhood in the inner city of Akron, Ohio. The Spurs could say the same thing. They were not supposed to be an inch from the championship. But they were, and that must give some semblance of hope to other squads on the fringe of contendership.
Remember, the Dallas Mavericks taught this same lesson in 2011, and the Boston Celtics nearly stopped the Heat in their tracks in 2012. This is a trend: aging teams that most of us discount are seriously challenging and sometimes beating the younger squads more driven by marquee power and high potential.
So, the normal impetus to assume defeat and rebuild at early signs of trouble isn't really that smart. If things break the right way, those older teams can pull it off. It's a lesson against breaking up teams that aren't quite there on paper. On the hardwood, circumstances and a little magic can get them there, even against the utopian squads.
(The other lesson of these Spurs: pounce on those young stars when you think you can nab them. Kawhi Leonard was the team's best player in Game 7. He was acquired for a song in an awful draft. R.C. Buford is the king.)
To which teams might this apply going forward? The Lakers, for one, must have renewed faith that life with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol can still bear fruit; the recent playoff Spurs, until 2013, hadn't been a whole lot better than the recent playoff Lakers. The Memphis Grizzlies fell apart against San Antonio, but could give it another try. (Memphis is suited to beat OKC, anyways.)
Time appears to have run out on the Celtics, though it's impossible to tell while Rajon Rondo is out of action. The New York Knicks are actually pretty old, even if you take away Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and the re-retired Rasheed Wallace. The Spurs' surprising, deep run and tough challenge to the Heat must give the 'Bockers some faith in their hopes of being crowned during the Carmelo Anthony era.