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https://plus.google.com/109471829238969661910 Bry Milan : Content: These Spurs as silent (and dangerous) as ever Much like its star of few words, San Antonio...
Content:

These Spurs as silent (and dangerous) as ever
Much like its star of few words, San Antonio waits for a prime chance to take center stage in the playoffs
POSTED: Apr 25, 2016 2:15 PM ET
BY DAVID ALDRIDGE
TNT Analyst
@daldridgetnt | Archive
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Kawhi Leonard has taken control of the Spurs' attack on both ends of the court this postseason.
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MEMPHIS — "The Warriors are gonna kill y'all!," the fan yells at the top of his lungs as the San Antonio Spurs leave the floor at FedEx Forum Friday, their first-round scrimmage with the Grizzlies almost over. There is serious work on the horizon, their team in the exact position they love being in -- off the lead, the drafting car.
Let Golden State have all the attention, the laps in first before the white flag comes out.
Even when he's injured, Stephen Curry gets more attention than any Spur. So does Kevin Durant, whose Oklahoma City Thunder likely await the Spurs in the next round, and Chris Paul. And James Harden. And, Hubie Brown.
This has been The Year of the Warriors, in all ways, and rightly so. A team goes 73-9, it should be the talk of the league. Golden State's style of play, its telegenic superstar, its quotable coach, its hot sauce in Draymond Green ... why wouldn't everyone be captivated by that?
But here are the Spurs, after a 4-0 sweep of overmatched, injured Memphis after a 67-win regular season -- coach Gregg Popovich's ninth sweep in a seven-game series, a new record for a coach -- flying into the Western Conference semifinals with everyone healthy, the defense formidable, Kawhi Leonard firmly established as the team's new hub, LaMarcus Aldridge comfortable ... and, now, getting a week off. The formula for another title run is in place.
Spurs vs. Grizzlies
Kawhi Leonard scores 21 points, LaMarcus Aldridge adds a double-double as the Spurs win Game 4 and sweep the series with Memphis.
"We like to fly under the radar," guard Danny Green said the other day. "That's our preference. Our style of play, I'm sure, even if we were at the top and had the historic numbers, just the way we are, how boring we are, how people say we're boring, we'd still fly under the radar regardless, just how we conduct ourselves differently from most in the league ... good for (the Warriors) that they had a great year, but good for us that they had a good year. It allowed us to stay focused and have a good year without all the media attention."
Whether or not the Spurs beat the Warriors to get out of the West, or Cavs or whomever in The Finals, is not the point. The Spurs already have five rings in the last 17 years. They're set as the gold standard in the NBA, if not all of pro sports. The wondrous thing is that they again have a chance at all, a real one, and may have lots more chances in the next few years.
With Leonard and Aldridge in place, Boris Diaw still dealing at center when the Spurs go to their version of small ball, Patty Mills coming off the bench firing (10 of 23 on 3-pointers against the Grizz), and the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still capable -- individually, if no longer collectively -- of impacting games, the Spurs are just as dangerous as they've ever been.
Good for (the Warriors) that they had a great year, but good for us that they had a good year. It allowed us to stay focused and have a good year without all the media attention.
– Spurs forward Danny Green
"I always think we have a shot, every year," Parker said. "This year is not different from other years. I think we always have a shot. We try to contend for a title. Obviously, Golden State, they have all the credit, and well-deserved. They've been playing unbelievable."
The irony of the Spurs getting right here, in Memphis, is rich.
In 2011, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the top-ranked Spurs in the first round. Ginobili had been rendered helpless with a broken arm suffered at the end of the regular season. Duncan was already 35 and well into the back nine of his career. The Spurs' starters at forward were 36-year-old Antonio McDyess, who would retire after that season, and Richard Jefferson, who would be traded to the Warriors the next year. San Antonio's run as a contender, much less a champion, appeared at an end.
But the Spurs rolled the dice about six weeks later. They traded Popovich's favorite player, George Hill, to Indiana in a Draft-night trade for Leonard, who'd gone 15th in the first round. They liked Leonard. They thought he could address their need at small forward going forward.
We left this building, in the series that we lost, and I would have guessed that had Kawhi not joined this group, all of our narratives would have been different ... are Tim and Manu still playing? Is Pop still coaching? Our narrative could have been completely different.
– San Antonio Spurs GM R.C. Buford, on the team's first-round playoff loss to Memphis in 2011
No one thought Leonard would become what he's become.
It was an unpopular trade in the locker room. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker loved Hill, known as "Pop's son" because even the crusty Popovich couldn't hide his affection for him. Trading him put Popovich's and general manager R.C. Buford's goodwill, built up over two decades with their players, on the line.
But nearly five years later, Leonard is now a Finals Most Valuable Player, the unquestioned best player on the team and a strong candidate for league MVP.
Kawhi Leonard's Finals MVP Performance
Kawhi Leonard scores 22 points and grabs 10 rebounds to lead the Spurs in a Game 5 rout to win the NBA Championship and the Finals MVP.
"We left this building, in the series that we lost," Buford said Friday, "and I would have guessed that had Kawhi not joined this group, all of our narratives would have been different ... are Tim and Manu still playing? Is Pop still coaching? Our narrative could have been completely different. It's not that Danny, or Cory Joseph, or any of the guys haven't contributed to that. But Kawhi changed the equation. And at a position that we had a real need for."
Leonard dropped Memphis into the offseason with another sublime performance Sunday -- 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and a +20 in the series-clinching win. With Curry's knee, and the Warriors' chances of repeating, now a giant question mark, the Finals path for San Antonio may have another thru lane. Not that they'd ever cop to it.
"We're the type of team that just focuses on ourselves," Leonard had said earlier in the week. "We know we have an opportunity, and we want to make the best of it. We want to go out each game and get better, and win each series, hopefully go to The Finals and win another championship. That's our goal."
Leonard's ascension from Bruce Bowen 2.0 to superstar, his willingness to come in just before the 2011 lockout started to begin working with assistant coach Chip Engelland -- on whose insistence that Leonard's shot wasn't broken coming out of college was a key factor in management's push to acquire him -- has been well-chronicled over the last year or so. But it's no less dramatic and compelling in the retelling.
Kawhi Drops 32 In Victory
Kawhi Leonard scores 32 points to help the Spurs widen the gap in their Western Conference first round series against the Grizzlies.
"There was a reason that he was at 15," Buford said. "Everyone had evaluated his shot. Because of Chip's involvement in the Draft process, Chip felt confident that this wasn't something that couldn't be fixed."
There was no one moment that was the turning point, the moment when the team changed hands -- well, maybe the 2013 Finals, Ginobili mused during the week, when Leonard first displayed the capability of guarding LeBron Jameswithout assistance in the open floor. But there rarely is a moment in San Antonio. Every offseason, every practice, every film session, every "vitamin" players get in their daily work with the assistants, respect and deferral is earned.
There just isn't anyone in the league who has as much two-way responsibility (maybe Paul George? Maybe Paul Millsap?) as the owner and sole proprietor (now sixth in the league in PER!) on Kawhi Island.
Leonard earned his stripes by "just going out there and doing it," Duncan said in a group scrum Saturday. "He hasn't said a whole lot, even now. He's gone out there and he's put it out on the floor, with the numbers, and he's helped us win games. In that respect, you show up and you do it like that, you earn people's respect. It was a lot of different levels that's he's reached over the years that's changed our outlook of him."
Leonard Wins Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award
The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard is the 2015-16 Kia Defensive Player of the Year.
Here, the legendary basketball writer Mike Monroe asks Duncan: what's the longest conversation you've ever had with Kawhi?
Duncan paused, briefly.
"(Bleep)," he said. "I don't think it's surpassed 10 or 15 seconds."
But Leonard does have his buttons pushed on the floor every now and then.
"He's getting fired up now, I think," Duncan said. "He's trying to earn the respect of the opponents, and officials, and everything else. I think he's getting to the point now where people are being a lot more physical with him, but people are still allowed to get away with a lot of stuff. And that gets him fired up, rightly so."
It wasn't just Leonard taking over the offensive burden, of course. The Spurs went all in to get Aldridge, a very un-San Antonio like foray into real free agency, with a marquee talent. It was something the organization hadn't done on a full scale since chasing after Jason Kidd in 2003. Free agency is not something they like. They were an eyelash from losing Duncan to Orlando in 2000 in tandem with Grant Hill, and it still gives them the shakes in the Alamo City.
But that doesn't mean they didn't do their homework before pursuing Aldridge, and they didn't come strong, with Popovich, Duncan, Leonard and Parker all at the pitch meeting with Aldridge in July.
Aldridge signed for $84 million and for the chance to be closer to his kids, who live in Texas. But the hard work was just beginning.
Aldridge Spins And Scores
LaMarcus Aldridge spins, steps back, and nails the jumper.
He deferred to his teammates at the start of the season, maybe too much. (They weren't exactly begging him to shoot without end, either; that was Ginobili who said, at the start of the regular season, "we're [not] going to change how we play, or adjust to him. He has to adjust to us.") And Aldridge travels the happy-unhappy spectrum at warp speed.
But his monthly splits showed steady improvement: 15.9 points per game in November and December, 16.7 in January, 20.5 in Feburary, 22.6 in March. His field goal percentage, .443 in November, was .563 in March, as he found his old comfort areas at the elbow and on the block. His high-low game with Duncan has improved significantly and they now look like they've played together for years. "San Antonio, they're at like a doctoral level, with the things that they run," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said admiringly.
Nobody or no one person or one thing is bigger than the group focus and the group agenda. ... It's easy to buy in when you see the other guys who've got that pedigree, who've been around awhile, still allowing themselves to be coached and talked to.
– Spurs forward David West
Most importantly, Aldridge integrated himself into the Spurs' defensive philosophy and packages seamlessly. In an age where everyone goes small and tries to spread you out, San Antonio can go small with Aldridge at center and lose little in the translation if he winds up checking a guard on a screen and roll switch.
There have been casualties.
Green's offense has collapsed. No longer assured to be the first perimeter option on a weakside swing-swing (Leonard was third in the league this season in 3-point percentage, at .443), and with Aldridge taking more shots as the year went on, Green's 3-point shooting has fallen from 41.8 percent last season to 33.2 percent this season, his worst numbers since 2009-10 (his rookie season).
Considering Green set a Finals record with 25 threes in the 2013 Finals against Miami, and that he just re-upped for four more years and $40 million last summer, this would seem to be an area of concern going forward.
Green's 25 Three-Pointers
Take another look at all 25 of Danny Green's record setting 3-pointers in an NBA Finals.
For now, Green is stoic. He continued his standing as one of the league's premier perimeter defenders at his position; this year, he passed Tony Allen to lead all NBA two guards in Defensive Rating, breaking into the top 10 overall at 99.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.
"Either way, you have to rise to the occasion at some point, in some aspect of the game," Green said. "And it doesn't necessarily have to be offense for me. And I know that that's been the year for me, not just during this playoff run, but the whole year. The aspect for me has always been defense. I had to let the offensive end go and not think about it as much, and just focus on my man, concentrate on being the best defensive wing that I can be. If shots come, they come. If they don't, they don't."
A similar adjustment has befallen David West. At least he knew what was coming, having walked away from the $12.6 million the Indiana Pacers would have paid him this year as a starter to play for the vet's minimum in San Antonio as a backup.
"It's not about individuals here," West said. "It's a group approach. It's that constant focus on the group. Nobody or no one person or one thing is bigger than the group focus and the group agenda. It's just kind of the way they do things. It's easy to buy in when you see the other guys who've got that pedigree, who've been around awhile, still allowing themselves to be coached and talked to. That's probably the most humbling thing, to watch these guys who have all the credentials in the world still are humble enough to accept criticism, accept coaching, and allow themselves to be pushed."
It didn't take long for West to see that in action, to see Popovich curse out a future Hall of Famer. (Does it matter which one?)
"It was like the first day," West said. "It's very humbling to see that, to see guys with the type of careers, and even at this point, to allow themselves to be pushed, to be corrected, and really accept it. It's just part of being an athlete, but ultimately, it's part of being the right type of athlete, where you can accept somebody's position, and coaching, and trying to get the best out of you, whether you're a Hall of Famer or whatever."
It's very humbling to see that, to see guys with the type of careers, and even at this point, to allow themselves to be pushed, to be corrected, and really accept it.
– West, on seeing Spurs' stars reprimanded at practice
It always comes back to Duncan and Parker and Ginobili, doesn't it?
Duncan is playing with two knee braces now. Parker and Ginobili are healthy -- as healthy as they're going to be this time of year, anyway -- but Parker, too, has had to figure out different ways to score with Leonard and Aldridge getting so many shots. When TNT analyst Reggie Miller said at the start of the Grizzlies series that this was an important series for Parker to get himself going, Parker's retort was simple: "I agree with him."
Yet they always figure out ways to stay relevant and productive, even as their skills diminish, their ego, again, laid to the side.
"I think it starts from the top," Parker said. "It starts with R.C. and Pop, to bring that philosophy that nobody is bigger than the team. Like you said, everybody has an ego. That's everybody. But I think in our team, everybody thinks about the team first. I think that's the most important thing if you want to be successful in a team sport. You have to put your ego on the side. When I first arrived, when you have Pop screaming at you, you learn very fast to swallow your pride."
Wasn't there one time when Parker wanted to yell back?
No, he says. He and Ginobili, coming from Europe and South America, were used to playing for screaming coaches. No one yells back at Pop, Parker says.
He's not a towel guy, or a big verbal guy. He's a touch guy. You see him at timeouts. If he's not in the game, he's up, he's got his hands on somebody's shoulders, he's talking to somebody about something on the court, trying to make them feel comfortable.
– Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on Tim Duncan
Oh, come on! Steven Jackson surely went back at Pop once or twice.
"Yeah," Parker acknowledges, "but at the far end of the bench, so Pop can't hear. We hear."
Make no mistake: Popovich hears everything, including his own grunting as he works the ropes, day after day, in the gym. (He looks great, perhaps getting ready for his cycle as coach of the U.S. Olympic team.) And he sees Duncan, still not talking, but so, so proud, and still the emotional center of this team. He doesn't play in a lot of fourth quarters these days, with Diaw holding down the small ball unit in the middle. The next word you hear from Duncan about it, unless under general anesthetic, will be his first.
"He's always been a leader by example," Popovich said. "He's not a towel guy, or a big verbal guy. He's a touch guy. You see him at timeouts. If he's not in the game, he's up, he's got his hands on somebody's shoulders, he's talking to somebody about something on the court, trying to make them feel comfortable. He's there before practice every day. His example has just been something that's been inspirational to everybody -- especially young guys who see him come in and they see him doing what he does. He doesn't have to speak it. He just walks it."
They've walked almost all the path together. They're the longest tenured player-coach duo in the history of America's four major sports, joined at the hip for almost 19 years. Sunday's win was Duncan's 155th career playoff win, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and tying former teammate Robert Horry for second place all-time on the career postseason wins list, trailing only Derek Fisher (161).
Duncan turns 40 today. The Spurs are in the conference semifinals for the 15th time in Duncan's 19 seasons. And so it goes.
"Tim's made us all look good," Buford said. "That you would expect to have somebody of his magnitude be the leader, not only in playing styles, but in chemistry and culture, and resiliency, then Manu and Tony join not long after. So the consistency of those three, and Pop, that covers up a lot of our weaknesses."

http://www.nba.com/2016/news/features/david_aldridge/04/25/morning-tip-san-antonio-spurs-chugging-toward-another-finals-run-kawhi-leonard-lamarcus-aldridge-tim-duncan/index.html
These Spurs as silent (and dangerous) as ever

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