The Drive for Five has reached the final lap, and the Spurs are in the driver’s seat. Sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies out of the Western Conference finals with Monday night’s 93-86 clincher leaves San Antonio in position to watch and wait.
Will the Spurs get the juicy matchup with LeBron James and the Miami Heat or can the Indiana Pacers pull off the upset? In either case, the boys in silver and black don’t have to leave their La-Z-Boys while the East finals go at least another two games.
If it’s the Heat, you can bet Gregg Popovich won’t send Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker home. No need to rest now. The Spurs have waited long enough — six years, in fact — to return to the NBA Finals.
“We want to get back there,” Duncan said. “We’ve had some really close years where we felt we were right on the verge of getting back. It seems like forever since we’ve been here, so everybody had been really focused, really driven and Pop has been pushing us all year to try to get back to this point.”
The best organization in professional sports, top to bottom, is in the championship series for the fifth time since 1999. All five have come during the Pop-Duncan Era, an unparalleled run of excellence that’s produced a quartet of Larry O’Briens.
The Finals’ return coincides with a career resurgence for Duncan, an All-NBA first-team performer at the tender age of 37. At some point, Duncan has to hang it up, right? Gotta get him one for the thumb.
“Since last year, I promised him that we would go back to the Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing,” Parker said. “I tried to do my best, try to be aggressive every night and I think everybody on the team really wanted to do it for him.
“We won the West and now there’s one more step. This is the hardest one and we don’t know who we’re going to play yet, but we know it’s going to be tough.”
While Timmy remains the foundation of San Antonio’s fundamentalism, Parker has emerged as the head of the snake. Parker ripped through the Grizzlies for a season-high 37 points, capping off an exquisite series that also included a career-high 18 assists in Game 2.
“He’s been amazing,” Duncan said. “Every year he gets better and better and better, and I told him I’m just riding his coattails. He’s been carrying us.”
The Spurs had every answer against Memphis on the 14-year anniversary of the Memorial Day Miracle. On this same day back in 1999, Sean Elliott’s corner 3-pointer at the buzzer propelled the Spurs past Portland in Game 2 of the West finals and that momentum carried San Antonio to its first NBA title.
This playoff run has that kind of feel of destiny. San Antonio is 12-2 during this postseason after blanking a Memphis squad that many thought would out-physical the Spurs, if not beat them. Just to complete the sweep reinforces their South Texas resolve.
The Grizzlies were desperate, at home and had to have the odds in their favor. After losing two in overtime, Memphis had to be due. But the Spurs wanted it more. Whether it was Duncan beating everyone down the floor despite being the oldest player on it or Parker sticking a dagger jumper or Manu diving to save a loose ball, the Spurs got it done.
And the Grizzlies’ edge down low with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph never materialized.
“Timmy and all the bigs did a great job,” Parker said. “Took a lot of effort, I’m sure they have a lot of bruises, but now we have a week off so it’s going to be nice.”