The eternally ancient San Antonio Spurs, still led by the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili triumvirate that led San Antonio to the 2005 NBA title, are like the picture of Dorian Gray. They don’t age. They just look like it.
The Spurs replenish their Dorian Grays with periodic infusion of youth. Tiago Splitter, for instance, the solid center from Brazil who is in his fourth San Antonio season. Splitter is 29 years old. Same as age as Kendrick Perkins.
To be fair, Splitter is 51 days younger than Perk, but still. What passes for an old man on the Thunder is barely legal on the Spurs. Gregg Popovich trots out four thirtysomethings in his nine-man rotation, plus Splitter, Marco Belinelli (28) and Danny Green (26). Even 25-year-old Patty Mills is older than both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Among Spur mainstays, only Kawhi Leonard (22) is younger than Durant and Westbrook, who both turned 25 last autumn.
So while the injury to Serge Ibaka has clouded the plot, the Thunder-Spurs showdown in the Western Conference Finals isn’t overly complicated. San Antonio precision and experience against Oklahoma City youth and pogo-stick legs.
The Thunder, in a Dorian Gray twist, seems to get younger by the day. The latest novelty is 7-foot rookie Steven Adams, who suddenly is playing 40 minutes in a closeout game against the Clippers, and is still two months shy of his 21st birthday. Even with the 24-year-old Ibaka sidelined, the Thunder unleashes a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed roster, even if it seems like Durant and Westbrook have been OKC comrades forever.
Reggie Jackson is 24. Perry Jones, who figures to play some of Ibaka’s minutes, is 22. Jeremy Lamb, who has been banished to the bench, is 21 and scored 665 NBA points this season.
This series is like that classic scene in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” where the slick schoolgirl swipes a parking space from Kathy Bates and says, “Face it, lady. We’re younger and faster.”
Kathy Bates’ character rams their car and says, “Face it, girls. I’m older and I have more insurance.”
The Spurs have more insurance in this series. They are savvy and well-drilled and won’t wilt when things go wrong. They have a belief in a system that has stayed faithful for over 15 years, a millennial in the NBA.
But the Thunder is younger and faster. And for two straight series, the Thunder’s young legs have worn down worthy foes. Memphis and the Clippers both had the jump on OKC. But by series end, the Thunder jumping jacks, led by Durant and Westbrook and Jackson and joined by Adams, still was leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
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