SAN ANTONIO – That was bad. Losing home-court advantage at the worst possible time, committing 21 turnovers in the continuation of a series-long plague, going from six points up with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter to nine points down at the end of the period, Monday night at AT&T Center was the worst possible statement of the suddenly upside-down state of the Spurs.
Except for this:
“I was disappointed in the lack of competitiveness overall in the first half, the physicality,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was proud of them that they came back and dug down deep and came back and competed in the second half. But we’ve been competing for three quarters in the past, and tonight we competed for two quarters. If we don’t get that straight, it’ll be over on Wednesday.”
The Western Conference finals will be. The season. Maybe even this version of the roster that tied for the most victories in the league and as recently as last Thursday afternoon had a 20-game winning streak and was getting a lot of questions about invincibility.
The Spurs are down 3-2 to the Thunder in the third round of the playoffs and are a Wednesday night in Oklahoma City away from elimination, and that’s not even the real hound dog moment for San Antonio. Seriously.
It became about the entire direction of the team when Popovich dropped into the chair in the interview room late on Monday night and criticized his team’s effort for the second time in three games. That’s long-term-implications stuff, a hard critique of the sudden 2011-12 failings and how they might shape next season.
How can it not be about the big picture? Surviving the West final by winning the next two games is the only thing that matters in the moment, but Tim Duncan could re-sign in the summer for multiple years and Tony Parker is having the best season of his career. Popovich loves that this is the deepest Spurs roster of his incredible run. But at some point the conversation will turn to whether this team is capable of meeting the greatest challenges, and the world now knows the answer is no.
It was a 2-2 series when the night began, with the alarm clock going off with back-to-back Thunder wins at Oklahoma City, and yet Popovich would end up saying, “I don’t think we competed very well in the first half” and the coach being “disappointed” by the effort. That is inexcusable anywhere, but especially unforgivable in a locker room built on dependability and mature approaches.
It will have to be addressed. The Spurs would prefer a solution by Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. If that doesn’t happen, though, the problem is not going away heading toward the future. Poor energy cannot be excused in the conference finals, and cannot be allowed to continue into next season.