The Firm Will Get You In The End!: An Editorial
In this editorial I shall refer to the San Antonio Spurs basketball team as either 'The System,'---as four-time NBA champion and basketball analyst Shaquille O'Neal called them last night---or, my personal favorite, 'The Firm,' as I like to call The Organization that is the San Antonio Spurs.
Like many of you, I watched game two of the series matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and The Firm. There are two broad categories of professional analysis that attended the game's aftermath: the real-time, on the field analysis and commentary by former NBA great Chris Webber and his partner---and Marv Albert near-voice twin---Kevin Harlan, as well as the half-time and postgame show Inside the NBA with Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny "The Jet" Smith, and Charles Barkeley, hosted by Ernie Johnson, Jr.; and the morning after analysis on ESPN's First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, hosted by Molly Querim.
I prefer the real-time and just-after analysis of the game and its implications. Let me explain.
I suppose I should start with the observation that real, committed sports fans, on occasion, cannot help making things harder for themselves than they need to be, apparently.
Now then, Skip Bayless, as anyone who watches First Take knows, is a lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan. He is always referring to them as "My Spurs." I will concede the fact that this veteran sports journalist has most certainly "forgotten" more about sports in general, and pro basketball in particular, than I will ever hope to know.
With that said, I must say that I find the sense of panic he's been expressing, concerning The Firm's prospects in this series with OKC, puzzling. Judging from this morning's program he has even drawn Stephen A. Smith into it, somewhat.
I look at the one-point victory that OKC eked out against The Firm and came to the following conclusion: Good for the Thunder! They put on an inspired performance. But still, after all that, they only just managed to overcome The Firm by one point. One point!
I believe that is the best the Thunder can do against The Firm. But its not the best The Firm can do, especially against OKC.
The Firm showed this with their 32-point blowout game one victory over OKC. But this morning, Stephen A. Smith seemed to dismiss that game as a kind of aberration, saying that "a lot of that was accumulated during 'garbage time.'" In other words, game one was not the real Thunder.
Okay, bad night for OKC in game one. But they had what everyone considers to be a great, dazzling night, last night. And yet, for all that effervescent brilliance, the Thunder still just managed to eke out a one-point victory over The Firm.
As you know, even that was a game OKC almost lost. In fact, given what we all know about the Thunder's troubles with fourth-quarter leads, failing to "close the deal," as it were, I found myself thinking this: Some way, somehow, the Thunder will find a way to lose this game to The Firm.
I understand that the Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley, picks the Thunder to win the series. I respect that. Analysts say that OKC has the most talent in the NBA. I respect that too.
But what The Firm shows, time and time again, is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One or two superstars, no matter how gifted, are not enough to get it done against The System.
But what about three?
This brings us to a point Chris Webber made at some point during the game. He said something to the effect of: "...not to bring up the Hardin point again..." but it would be nice if OKC had a "third ball-handler" to take some of the pressure off Durant and Westbrook. Kevin Harlan replied, only half-jokingly, that because of the way The Firm plays the game, "... it sometimes seems like" they "have five ball-handlers on the court."
There is a consistent line of critique that NBA analyst, Shaquille O'Neal applies to the Thunder. What he says, in effect, is that it would be nice of Durant and Westbrook "trusted" "The Others," especially late in tight games. Mr. O'Neal emphasizes his total team philosophy as to how the game of basketball should be played: "Everybody plays, everybody 'eats,'."
He feels that if you share the ball, get everybody involved on the offensive end, they will be engaged on the defensive end. This is only a very slight variation on the critique that Skip Bayless tends to apply to OKC ("Your turn, my turn" basically between Durant and Westbrook).
There was one offensive sequence in which OKC actually passed the ball four times. This fact was apparently such a departure from standard operating procedure, that Kevin Harlan felt the need to take note of it, saying that he had never seen the Thunder pass the ball four times.
Okay, stay with me
On the Friday edition of ESPN's First Take, Skip Bayless's apparent panic over "My Spurs," was at such a pitch that he could not even enjoy the thirty-two-point beat down The Firm had handed the Thunder in the previous Saturday's game one.
The reason that Mr. Bayless could not enjoy it, was because he had drawn an eerie comparison to the "Memorial Day Massacre" suffered by the Los Angeles Lakers, in a game one playoff contest in---wait for it---1985. That's right, thirty years ago!
Mr. Bayless pointed out that the Lakers lost a blowout, but that they recovered, went on to win the series, and the NBA title.
Stephen A. Smith---correctly, I think---indicated that it was virtually sacrilegious to make such a comparison. After all, with the '85 Lakers we're talking about Earvin "Magic" Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul Jabar and company. They had all been champions before 1985.
Now, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be top five players in all the National Basketball Association, but the Thunder haven't won anything yet. They have not proven themselves in that way. And as I mentioned before, OKC, has been having trouble "closing the deal" in the fourth quarter, all year.
Stephen A. Smith---again, correctly and appropriately---rhetorically asked Skip Bayless if he knew the difference between having talent and knowing how to win. In today's game, nobody knows how to win better than The Firm.
One thing that The Firm has done better than any other team in the entire National Basketball Association is evolve.
As former NBA great and color commentator Chris Webber has pointed out: The Firm's legend started with a focus around "The Twin Towers," 'The Admiral' David Robinson and Tim Duncan; then the focus became the Frenchman Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Let me pause here to say that, as everybody knows, with each new configuration there was something of a style modification (but no change in operational philosophy). The Firm has won championships with the "Twin Towers" configuration and it has won championships with the Parker-Ginobili configuration.
I have no doubts that The Firm will win championships with the Kawhi Leonard-LaMarcus Aldridge focus configuration. As you know, there are a whole lot of professional NBA watchers who believe Leonard may be the best "two-way" player in the National Basketball Association.
Now, let me take a sidestep to something else briefly. I hear that some NBA analysts/commentators may actually be favoring Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are favored to win the whole ball of wax this year, the NBA Championship.
Not if The Firm has anything to say about. And from what I saw last night, there is no reason in the world why The System shouldn't.
You know, there is a principle to keep in mind regarding The System. That is this: If you bring your A-game, play mistake-free basketball, and give it everything you've got, you might beat The Firm. But when The Firm brings everything it's got against you, its a massacre.
There was no better illustration of this than a certain two-year period I'm thinking about. This is when LeBron James was still with the Miami Heat. Do you remember how it had taken everything LeBron James and the Heat had just to barely win over The Firm in seven games, to win the NBA title?
What happened the next year? What happened the very next year?
The System rose up once again to dispatch LeBron James and the Miami Heat in five games, to win the NBA Championship, which was the fifth for The Firm. Five games!
Now, you might argue that today's "Spurs" are a different team than that one. You're right: this year's team is even better. The Firm has certainly had its best regular season in franchise history at 67-15. Skip Bayless has said that he has never seen "My Spurs" look better.
But when Mr. Bayless first started saying this, earlier this year, he did not hold out much hope that "San Antonio" could win the title. That was because it seemed to him, at the time, that the defending world champions, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, were, essentially, too much of a force of nature to be derailed.
Then, as it became clear that Golden State were chasing the single-season win record, Mr. Bayless wondered if the Warriors weren't making a mistake, essentially overtaxing themselves thus making things better for "My Spurs."
Here's the thing. As good as Durant and Westbrook are---and they are truly great and they both get their share of "Assists"---neither one of them has the positively magical making-other-guys-better playmaking powers that LeBron James has.
By the way, did you see that spectacular, LeBron James, two-handed, half court, bounce pass, which caught Richard Jefferson, perfectly in stride on the run, for the slam, last night against Atlanta?
You know, a lot of people like to make up "Dream Team" scenarios in their head, involving LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and so on. But here's one: What if LeBron James joined The Firm?
For what its worth, here's my prediction for this Spurs-Thunder series, now tied up at 1-1. The Thunder will not be able to summon up such a superhuman collective effort again, against The System; The Firm prevails in 5 or 6 games.
Who will make it out of the west? The Firm or a rejuvenated Warriors squad with a healthy Steph Curry returned to them?
Thanks for reading!