- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tim Duncan missed his last 10 field goal attempts, Manu Ginobili was 6-for-19 shooting and Tony Parker fashioned a relatively quiet 7-for-17 performance.

And yet the support-hose Spurs, as dull and bland as ever, persevered in Game 7 against the young and athletic Hornets.

The Spurs survived on the road in hostile conditions. They survived being inefficient on offense most of the game. They survived despite the troubles of their Big Three.

The Spurs learned long ago how to be professionals. They learned that sometimes a team’s shooting touch is destined to be absent. They learned that sometimes their lead players, for whatever reasons, are not going to have it.

But here’s how the Spurs managed to slip past the Hornets in a venue that had been inhospitable to them in the previous three games there: They held the Hornets to 40.2 percent shooting. They ran multiple defenders at Chris Paul and challenged his every step.

Paul may have finished with 18 points and 14 assists, but he needed 18 shots to score his points and committed four turnovers.

He hardly was the player who made the Spurs look old and infirm earlier in the series. His was a solid Game 7 but not a dominant one.

And the trickle-down defensive effect from Paul was conspicuous. David West also had to work hard to free himself. He finished with a team-high 20 points but needed 19 shots.

Peja Stojakovic was a nonfactor, which was not too surprising. The lump in his throat seems to grow in relation to the magnitude of the game, dating to his days with the Kings.

The Spurs reduced the exercise to a halfcourt game of wits and guile. They nullified the free-flowing expression of the Hornets. They blunted the enthusiasm of the crowd. They implored the Hornets to take a deep look at themselves and ask, “Are you truly ready to unseat the champions?”

The Hornets looked out of sorts much of the game, unnerved, overwhelmed by the moment, as you might expect from a team that did not make the playoffs last season.

It was not until they fell behind by 17 points late in the third quarter that they relaxed, as if realizing in that instance the outcome was essentially settled and they had no reason to be a bundle of nerves.

That is what the Spurs can do to a talented but inexperienced playoff opponent. It probably will be different if these two teams meet again in the playoffs next spring. After all, this is probably the last hurrah for the Spurs in their current form.

Even impeccable basketball smarts eventually succumb to the ravages of time. So this is not to suggest the Spurs have enough energy left to claim what would be their fifth championship in 10 seasons.

Other than Parker, who is 26 years old, the core of the Spurs is ancient by basketball standards.

Duncan is 32, Ginobili 30, Bruce Bowen 36 and Fabricio Oberto 33. Most of the top reserves of the Spurs are in the last throes of their careers, what with Robert Horry being 37, Brent Barry 36, Michael Finley 35, Kurt Thomas 35 and Ime Udoka 30.

The Spurs won a series that was reminiscent of the Celtics defeating the Pistons in seven games in 1987. The Pistons probably were the better team in all the important areas at that point, except playoff experience.

But Larry Bird stole the ball in Game 5, and he and the Celtics eventually earned one more dance with Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

If this is the last go-around for these Spurs — and logic suggests change will be inevitable in the offseason — their march should be appreciated.

The Spurs never have transcended the sport, as Bird’s Celtics, Johnson’s Lakers and Michael Jordan’s Bulls did, which is too bad.

A style of play grounded in the fundamentals is worthy of celebration.

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