Originally Published: May 27, 2013

1. These Spurs Never Lost Their Finals Touch

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's not just that the San Antonio Spurs won the Western Conference, it's that the Spurs Way won the Western Conference.

That's the real triumph. Not San Antonio 93, Memphis 86, or a four-game sweep of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals. And it's not even that it's the 98th playoff game won by the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus coach Gregg Popovich. It's the fact that they've had the opportunity to be together long enough to win that many games, in a league in which change always lurks on the other side of a four-game losing streak.

"It's rare what we have," an appreciative Duncan said. "I know it. I know it's rare what we have. Rare for the confidence that they have in Pop and the front office, rare for us playing together for so long. There's a lot of rare air here. And it's fun to be a part of it, honestly. It's an honor to be a part of it."

AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisHeading back to the Finals for the first time since 2007 is cause for celebration.

There's luck involved, of course, from the bounces of the pingpong balls that delivered Duncan in the 1997 draft lottery to the injury avoidance it requires to make five trips to the NBA Finals. There was the eye for finding talent with late-round draft picks and the basketball acumen to develop prospects.

Above all of it is an organizational philosophy, one that hasn't wavered, not even in the face of superstar arms races or number-crunching analysts. The word Popovich likes to use for in-series adjustments is "tweaks," and the same could be said of the Spurs' approach to their roster. They've rotated foreign centers (Rasho Nesterovic, Fabricio Oberto and now Tiago Splitter), found Kawhi Leonard to become a modern Bruce Bowen on the wing, brought in former All-Stars for one last ride to glory (Glenn Robinson, Michael Finley and Tracy McGrady).

But they never changed their core. It's not that Duncan didn't have chances to leave or that the Spurs never considered replacing Parker or that Popovich doesn't look like he wants to air-drop Ginobili on a deserted island at least three times a game. It's that they always came around to the belief that what they have is what works best.

"I think a lot of people think the grass is greener on the other side," Popovich said, "and if we change this coach or trade these guys, it's all going to be nirvana after that. I think if you stay the course and you've got leaders who are quality character people, you follow them as long as you can. I've been hanging on Timmy's coattails a long time."

That's funny, because Duncan said he was riding Parker's coattails, saying, "He's the reason we're here."

(Parker can't account for the entire season on his own, but his 37 points, six assists and four rebounds in Game 4 surely are the reason this series ended Monday night.)

The Spurs talk about coattails so much you forget no one actually wears coattails anymore. The Spurs just beat everyone in the West while clad in obsolete clothing. Afterward they finally had a chance to update their wardrobes, with Duncan pulling on a gray T-shirt with "Best of the West" written above the Spurs logo right before he addressed the media.

"I guess it's in style to wear these," Duncan said.

Except the Spurs have never been trend-setters. Oh, they might have set the template for small-market teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Spurs never made a move as criticized as the Thunder's trade of James Harden before the season.

Lately it was the Grizzlies who were subject to questioning about a major midseason trade. And before we spend too much time wondering "what if" about Rudy Gay, ask yourself whether his 42 percent shooting in seven career playoff games (including 21 percent on 3-pointers) would have helped against this Spurs defense.

All you needed to know about how much the Spurs were in the Grizzlies' heads came in one possession, when Marc Gasol passed up an open jumper and gave the ball to Zach Randolph, who also passed on an open jumper. All series, the Grizzlies kept looking for better shots that weren't there. The Spurs held them to 38 percent shooting in the conference finals, and Memphis never found a way to free Randolph, never sprung Mike Conley, never scored more than 86 points in regulation in any of the four games.

Even after Randolph had a miserable series, scoring a total of 44 points on 16-for-53 shooting, he had nothing but respect for the man who contributed to so much of his frustration -- Duncan -- and admiration for how Duncan still gets it done at age 37.

"It motivates me," Randolph said. "Like I told him, after the game, good luck to him and I look up to him as a player and all the things he's done, how professional he is, the way he plays. Just everything."

What motivates Duncan is desire for another championship ring to go with the four he's already won, a thirst made even greater by a six-year gap -- the longest of his career -- since his last trip to the NBA Finals.

"It feels like it's been forever since we've been to this point," Duncan said.

"To get over that hump and get back to the Finals is just an amazing feeling, honestly."

Elias Sports Bureau pumped out stats saying Duncan has gone the longest between making initial and latest NBA Finals appearances with the same team (13 years), and that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are the first trio outside of the Lakers and Celtics to reach four NBA Finals together.

The Spurs are so cyclical. Duncan has never put himself above the organization, but the organization values him above all else. I asked owner Peter Holt who popped into his mind when he thought of this team's latest achievement, and he said: "It's Tim. I mean, everybody, of course. But ... Tim."

Parker implied his MVP-level play of late was to make good on a pledge to Duncan.

"I promised to him that we will go back, go back to the Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing, and I'm going to do my best," Parker said.

Parker can't do much better than this game, even though he's been fatigued and battling a calf bruise lately, then was accidentally poked in the eye by Gasol late in this game. (It was the right eye, not the left one that was damaged by broken glass set loose in a nightclub champagne bottle fight between Chris Brown's and Drake's crews.)

Injuries in a club doesn't seem very Spurs-like. Playing in the NBA Finals is more of what they're accustomed to. And it's never felt so good.

"Every team wants to beat you," Parker said. "And that's why it makes it even more special to go back after all those years playing at a high level with the same coach, with the same big three."

Dimes past: May 7 | 8 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 18 | 19 | 21 | 22 | 24 | 25 | 26

J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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