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Arts & Culture

Spurs 'grind hard' back to the Western Finals

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

About this time last summer, things were looking pretty bleak for the Spurs. After a historic first-round collapse against the Memphis Grizzlies that accentuated San Antonio's flaws, even All-Star quarterback Tony Parker couldn't mask his disappointment. "At the start of the season I said this was our last chance," Parker told a French reporter. "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."

The next month, San Antonio's championship window appeared to close a little bit more when Parker's backup, George Hill, was traded for an unknown rookie named Kawhi Leonard. The NBA lockout followed in July and by November hoops talk got somewhat surreal after Spurs general manager R.C. Buford crashed into a fence west of downtown with an open container in his ride. David Stern and company averted a basketball nuclear winter just in time for Christmas, and just like the league, Buford persevered.

Leonard is the rookie of the post-season and has become Buford's most important pick this side of Manu Ginobili. Still, the Spurs brain trust is not without its faults. Gregg Popovich's stubbornness rivals his brilliance, and their fumbles with Luis Scola and Richard Jefferson cost Duncan and Ginobili valuable campaigns. Buford turned the franchise's fortunes around this season not only with Kawhi, but through shrewd moves that brought names like Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw into the fold.

Diaw honored his best friend Tony's birthday with some wireless speakers and an all-around stellar performance to secure a Game 2 victory for the Spurs at the AT&T Center.

"Boris Diaw is pretty well known," Pop told reporters after San Antonio's 105-88 triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers. "He's done a very good job for us, fit in pretty seamlessly coming that late in the season, but it's basketball, it's not all that complicated. If you've been around in the league, you know how to play and he's done a good job."

After sweeping the Clippers, the Spurs now return to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008 when they succumbed to the Los Angeles Lakers. Riding an 18-game winning streak, San Antonio now awaits either the hated Lakers or the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. Having adopted Leonard's mantra of "grind hard" the Spurs appear poised for a return trip to the NBA finals, which a year ago seemed a lifetime away. Somewhere R.C. Buford, the Alamo City's championship architect, is smiling.

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