AT&T CENTER--Two years ago, when these two teams last met in the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were in the midst of an identity crises, transitioning from a style of play Tim Duncan's body could no longer sustain and finding themselves again through Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and a bevy of shooters.
In 2011 the defensive foundations that have held the franchise up for over a decade were sacrificed in the name of offensive brilliance. The offense took quickly, earning the Spurs the top seed, but implementing a new system on the run also meant that execution was far from second nature. Hit the Spurs hard enough and those offensive principles--not quite yet a part of players' muscle memories--were quickly abandoned.
These Spurs are different. If 2011 marked the beginning of the rebuild, these Spurs are at last complete and comfortable in their own skin. The system has been installed and hardwired into the DNA of the team, while the hardware has been upgraded to provide the same defensive excellence once expected of a team coached by Gregg Popovich. This rematch, set in the Western Conference Finals, would be the perfect opportunity to see how far the team has come.