See, Sunday night is most likely the last NBA Finals home game Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will ever play together. The end is near for the Spurs’ three veteran stars. No one wants to admit it simply because teams coached in South Texas by Gregg Popovich have been shown to have a longer shelf life than Lazarus or Spam.
But Ginobili, 35 and struggling mightily in the series, admitted Saturday that he thinks about retirement. The earth-bound Duncan, 37, has two years left on his contract, the last at his option. And even when Parker, 31, recovers from a strained hamstring sometime this summer, he knows teams led by point guards Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, a rehabbed Russell Westbrook, and other younger, more spry players are growing up in a hurry.
If the Spurs are honest with themselves, it’s a minor miracle they got back to their first Finals since 2007. The combination of a Laker implosion, coupled with crucial injuries to Oklahoma City and Denver and Golden State still maturing, helped paved an unlikely path.
As the road comes to an end, it’s worth saluting the Spurs because they gave us more good years of sharing-and-caring basketball than even some of them imagined.
Remember Parker’s quote from the summer of 2011 to the French magazine L’Equipe?
“At the start of the season I said this was our last chance,” he said then. “Tim [Duncan] and Gino [Manu Ginobili] are getting old. It’s going to be tough to regenerate ourselves. We will always have a good team but we can no longer say that we’re playing for a championship.”
Parker always maintained his words were slightly misconstrued. Still, two years later, it’s crazy to think an aging center from the Virgin Islands, a struggling small forward from Argentina and a French point guard with a strained hamstring are suddenly locked in a best-of-three scrum with the most hyped defending NBA champions since Michael’s Incredi-Bulls.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all woke from a Finals slumber in Game 4, evening the series at two apiece — defending, running, stopping, popping, combining for 85 points in an eventual blowout.
Momentum has turned. You can feel it in LeBron’s plea to his teammates to win back-to-back games in the playoffs. This is the Spurs’ last stand, “a must win,” Duncan acknowledged Saturday. “. . . Huge pressure if we have to go back [to Miami] and win two.”
Parker was asked if he ever thought Sunday night could be the end of an NBA era.
“No,” he said.
“Just because you think you’ll get back here and this is not the last time for the Spurs?”
“No,” Parker repeated. “I don’t think about that. All I have in my mind is Game 5 and we have to win Game 5.”