By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – They gave out the Kia MVP award earlier in the day.
Kevin Durant over LeBron James in the ultimate 1-on-1 beauty contest.
But the Spurs have never been ones for strutting their stuff down the runway.
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker finished in a tie for 12th place.
“I can’t wait to tell them,” said their coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs, of course, have been running an entirely different kind of race for years, one that never quite looks right in a bikini.
This is not the way championship teams are supposed to be constructed in the NBA, a league that has always been built on individual stars who are able to hoist entire teams up on their backs.
Mikan. Russell. Kareem. Bird. Magic. Isiah. Michael. Shaq. Kobe. Wade. Dirk. LeBron.
But here are the Spurs winning a league-best 62 in the regular season while trying their damnedest to look a basketball version of the Rockettes, one huge chorus line where it’s the high kick of the collective that most impresses.
“That’s a championship team,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the star of a team celebrated for getting out of the first round for the first time in 14 years. “They came out with more energy than we did. They threw the first punch on both ends of the floor.”
That’s because the Spurs have been throwing punches in these postseason situations since only what seems like the dawn of time. Duncan alone has played more playoff games (219) than the entire Portland franchise.
“They did what championship teams do,” said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. “Most of the guys on (our) team haven’t even been in the second round and they’ve won championships. They’ve been here. I think they definitely came out and let us know how it’s going to be.”
That is, like playing an octopus armed with a set of butcher knives.
While Parker grabbed the spotlight in Game 1 with 33 points and nine assists, this is not his wagon to pull. Not alone. Not all by himself through the long playoff grind.
Parker is the match, but the fire comes from a Spurs lineup that burns deeper than any other in the league.
Perhaps the only team in NBA history to win a championship without a truly singular star was the 2004 Pistons. Ben Wallace was their highest finisher in MVP voting that year. Wallace was 10th. Yet he, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace took down the mighty Lakers.
The Spurs have taken that approach one step further, spreading the wealth and conserving their energy all season long in order to be fit and ready for this charge.
Not a single player on the Spurs roster averaged 30 minutes this season. Parker was tops at 29.4.
The Spurs had nine different players who averaged at least 8.2 points and nobody higher than 16.7.
No stars? Tell that to the Blazers, who were seeing them before the end of the first quarter.
This was a Portland team that went into Houston to open the first round of the playoffs and arrogantly rearranged the furniture in winning the first two games on the road. On this night, they were lost, befuddled, hopelessly overmatched.
“They play your plays,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “They knew where and what we were going to do. They did what all teams do in the playoffs.”
The Spurs just do it better.
All that angst and worry when they were pushed to seven games in the first round by the No. 8 Mavericks.
Too slow, too old, too tired?
So in the past two games, San Antonio has averaged 117.5 points, won by an average of 23.5, shot 54 percent from the field and 42.5 percent on 3-pointers.
The Spurs’ defense bodied up Lillard and kept him from doing damage in the paint, kept a lid on Aldridge early and never let the Blazers grow an ounce of confidence.
By the second quarter, the little-used Kiwi-by-birth, Australian-by-passport Aron Baynes was tossing around Portland like throw pillows and the Spurs never let the Blazers get closer than 20 at any time in the last 28 minutes of the game.
When Parker capped off his night with one especially dazzling spin drive, drew a foul and stood at the free throw line late in the third quarter, the home crowd rose with the obligatory chant: “MVP! MVP!”
By that time, it had already been given to someone else who doesn’t play for the Spurs.
Don’t bother to tell them.