The last words said to Russell Westbrook before he took the court Thursday and ended what not long ago was accurately being called the greatest San Antonio Spurs season ever:
“Let’s go, fool.”
Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Anthony Morrow spoke them, practically singing the words as a tune.
It was the antithesis of what any of the button-down, veteran Spurs would ever say to each other, especially in a pressure-packed playoff moment.
As such, the words serve as an apt stamp to put on a Spurs’ season that came to a close after a 113-99 Game 6 loss to the Thunder.
The Spurs are not chill and reckless and eager to dance.
They are not fools.
And seriousness speaks to something they lacked in this six-game Western Conference semifinal blitz by a team that finished 12 games behind them in the standings.
It wasn’t simply athleticism, though that was part of it.
It was vitality.
“Relentless” is how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described Oklahoma City’s will in pursuit of rebounds—especially Steven Adams, who was three years old when Tim Duncan was drafted.
Popovich’s long-held belief that he wants players who have “gotten over themselves” undeniably helps build a team.
“The more character you bring in—or people who have gotten over themselves or are already competitive and don’t need to be motivated—the job’s a whole lot easier,” he said earlier this season. “You can concentrate on other things. So that’s part of the formula.”
But as Popovich himself said, that’s not all that is needed.
If some “gotten over themselves” guys are going to be so vanilla, other ingredients must promote, rather than stifle, creativity.
And without enough flavor in the mix and explosion in the chemistry, the Spurs were exposed by the onrushing Thunder to be so much less than they purported to be.
They were charlatans, really. Via black smoke and silver mirrors, the Spurs made unfocused opponents look stupid in the regular season en route to a club-record 67 regular-season victories.
Yet when it came down to it, the Spurs had no next gear and no unstoppable individual stars. The long, nimble Thunder defense hunkered down instead of falling for all that deception. Kevin Durant had it figured out by late Thursday night, explaining how the quick-passing Spurs offense just tries to “make you move around a lot.” OKC just didn’t move.
For some observers it was a stunningly premature end to San Antonio’s season, but it was telling how well the Spurs accepted defeat.
They knew their bench was heavy with experience but offered no infusions of energy when on the court.