There’s a weird sort of paradox going on in the NBA playoffs that just might tear a hole in existence as we know it.
Perhaps I’m being overdramatic, but the matter of experience when placing the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz next to each other creates an intriguing picture. On the one hand, we’re given Jerry Sloan against Gregg Popovich. Championship rings aside, Sloan has been at this head coaching thing for quite a bit longer than Popovich, and in an era when the first approach to improving a team is to change the coach, Sloan’s longevity not just as a coach but as a renowned coach is impressive. Popovich himself will admit to having drawn a lot of his coaching tactics from Sloan, who preaches the principles of basketball in a very similar way.
What Popovich lacks in chronological experience is probably easily offset by his three NBA championships. Anything else can be taken care of by the experience of his players. Tim Duncan had already captured one NBA title by the time his Jazz counterpart, Carlos Boozer, was drafted and has won two more in the time since then. Tony Parker was playing professional ball not long after Deron Williams started high school hoops. San Antonio’s prosperity has meant that this squad has played in big games. A lot of them. Game One of the Western Conference Finals doesn’t bother them.
When so many guys on one team have that much more experience than the other, it means one of two things. Either those guys playing for San Antonio are old and over the hill, or the Spurs’ cornerstone players have had a winning environment around them since day one, something Utah’s squad surely has not enjoyed. Sadly for the Jazz, the latter is the case. Tony Parker is, in fact, only 25 years old, and the punchlines amongst basketball enthusiasts about the average age of the Miami Heat don’t extend to the Spurs.
The burden for making this a series rests firmly on the shoulders of Jerry Sloan, then. He will have to outcoach Popovich enough to give his players a chance against the much more battle-tested Spurs. Hardly an easy task. Utah is a good defensive team, but clamping down on a Golden State team incapable of living by anything but 3-point buckets hardly constitutes coming up with a fancy nickname for the Jazz defense. That isn’t to imply that Utah’s defense is not stellar, but the Spurs, being as disciplined as they are, pose some serious defensive challenges. For example, Carlos Boozer is going to constantly line up against essentially a bigger, stronger, better version of himself in Tim Duncan. Deron Williams does do a better job of distributing the ball than Tony Parker does but is far less capable of creating his own shot and, even more concerning, has taken poor care of the basketball in the playoffs thus far.
Utah is capable of defeating San Antonio. In fact, they, much like the Spurs, play the type of halfcourt, smothering game that has granted San Antonio such abundant success since the late ’90s. They’re a fantastic rebounding team that will have to maintain that hustle on the boards to keep Duncan and Co. from getting any more opportunities than they will already get. Utah limiting second chance points and crashing the offensive glass at the other end, both things they do very well, will go a long way in taking this from a quick four and out to a potential marathon.
But at the end of the day, the Jazz just, top to bottom, are not as good a team as San Antonio. Boozer is a good half court player; Duncan is the best in the league. Utah has one dangerous 3-point shooter in Williams; San Antonio can pick between Michael Finley, Big Shot Rob (Robert Horry), Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even Bruce Bowen to put lots of points on the board in quick succession while maintaining the integrity of the disciplined gameplan the Spurs execute so well. Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams’ turnovers will go from being a slight concern against the Warriors to a crippling deficiency against the Spurs. And experience aside, Popovich may have in his 11 years surpassed Jerry Sloan in the art of playing basketball chess.
With San Antonio well short of 48 hours removed from their last playoff basketball, there is a possibility that Utah snatches the inaugural game from under San Antonio’s nose, but the Spurs should be punching a ticket to the NBA Finals in mo more than six games.Powered by Sidelines