Ted Sevransky is a handicapper with Covers Experts.
The Spurs won their first NBA championship back in 1999, as the low post tandem of Tim Duncan and David Robinson carried San Antonio to a 4-1 series win over the Knicks in the Finals.
That championship, however, was somewhat lightly regarded at the time – it was an awkward, strike shortened season and the Spurs faced the upstart No. 8 seed New York Knicks in the Finals, the only No. 8 seed in NBA history to advance that far in the playoffs.
Hopes weren’t high for a repeat title, with Portland, the Lakers and Sacramento all improving dramatically in the Western Conference. The Spurs lost Sean Elliott to a kidney ailment that curtailed his NBA career, while the Admiral was no longer the powerhouse center that he once was. It was Tim Duncan’s team now, and Duncan wasn’t ready to lead them.
I remember the Lakers sweeping the Spurs out of the playoffs in 2001, then dominating them 4-1 in the playoff in 2002, en route to their third consecutive title. At the time, the Lakers exuded confidence in every close game, every tight situation. Tim Duncan looked like a lost little boy, with fear in his eyes, particularly in that first series when San Antonio got swept.
I mean that quite literally – you could see in Duncan’s eyes by Game 2 of that series that he was simply outmatched and outclassed by L.A. His eyes told the story and I bet against the Spurs in Game 3 and Game 4, eschewing the zig-zag theory in favor of the ‘bet on the better team’ theory, which proved to be a profitable decision for myself and my clients.
Tim Duncan didn’t look like a lost little boy last night, as the Spurs rallied to beat the Mavs, forcing a Game 7. San Antonio was not sharp early on, but they rallied to tie the game at 71-71 early in the fourth quarter. Then, Duncan hit one of his trademark bank shots and was fouled, hitting the free throw as well, to give the Spurs a three point lead.
You could see it in Tim Duncan’s eyes, right then – the Spurs were not going to lose this ballgame. Sure, Dallas went on another run to regain the lead. Sure, it was Michael Finley who hit the biggest shot of the night, nailing a trifecta with under three minutes to play to give San Antonio the lead for good. But it was Duncan’s confidence, Duncan’s championship mentality that was the difference maker, in my opinion. His eyes told the whole story.
Dirk Nowitzki’s eyes told the opposite story. Nowitzki has never been able to hit the big shot in the playoffs. His Mavs team has always come up short around this time of the year. And, with the game on the line last night, Dirk looked tentative. He looked scared. He passed up open shots to feed Devin Harris, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse, instead of taking over the game himself. You could see it in his eyes -- the Mavs were not going to win the biggest game of Nowitzki’s life.
Nowitzki ended up being the goat, taking an absolutely horrible shot, a contested, fall-away 3-point try with plenty of time left on the clock and the Mavs flush with timeouts. And Duncan’s confident look inspired his team to earn a very tough victory and give their title chances a much needed boost as the series shifts back to San Antonio for Game 7.
Confidence means more than experience in the NBA playoffs. Teams with a swagger perform better than teams with any shred of tentativeness or uncertainty. Heading back on the road for Game 7, it’s going to take a Herculean effort from Nowitzki and the Mavs to overcome that look in Tim Duncan’s eyes.
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