With just over four minutes left in Wednesday night’s Dallas Mavericks – San Antonio Spurs game Tony Parker back-cut an overly aggressive Jose Calderon, received a perfect bounce pass from Tiago Splitter and dropped in a spinning reverse layup. Both the set-up and execution were pure beauty, born of the synergy and awareness the Spurs have been dusting their opponents with for more than a decade. The only thing was (as I’m sure you’ve already angrily shouted at your computer) it wasn’t Tony Parker.
As this play unfolded I was lounging on my futon in sweatpants, drinking red wine from a coffee mug, keeping an eye on the game and chatting up my mother-in-law who was in town — basically just living that baller blog life. Distraction, both human and alcoholic, explains much of my mistake. Of course it helps that Mills and Parker are of similar stature and wear numbers 8 and 9. But it also seemed a twinkling bit of sorcery that a play could be so Spurs-ian, so reminiscent of Parker and the way he operates inside their structure, that I would actually confuse two players.
The Mavericks and Spurs have met in the playoffs six times over the past fifteen years. Duncan, Nowitzki, Ginobili, Popovich and Parker are constants but the rest of the cast has changed, a dozen times over. But there is something about both teams and this matchup in particular that feels timeless and indelible, vivid memories on an eternal loop. The names and faces have changed, but the roles haven’t. The intensity and artistry haven’t. The basketball hasn’t.
Vince Carter bleeds into Peja Stojakavic who is Keith Van Horn who was Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker.
Old Devin Harris bleeds into Jason Terry who is young Devin Harris who was Nick Van Exel.
I can forgive myself for mixing up Parker and Mills because there is a straight and unbroken metaphysical line that connects the two players. Gary Neal has a toe on that line, but George Hill and T.J. Ford are so tangled in it that they can’t escape. That is what makes this series so compelling, beyond of course the viciously intellectual coaching duel and the impeccable basketball. It is the sense that we’ve seen this a thousand times before, but it has changed just enough that it never feels like a rerun.
So when you tune in tonight, keep an eye out for Marco Belinelli on the bench and see if you can also spot Brent Barry stepping through space and time to stand behind him. Watch out for Shawn Marion and the spirit of Josh Howard during warmups, hashing out their strategy for keeping Parker out of the lane. Bonus points if you are able to catch an ethereal Erick Dampier whispering questionable words of wisdom into the ears of Samuel Dalembert and The Ghost of Jason Kidd Past psyching up Jose Calderon in the tunnel.
Take comfort in the fact that what was before has come again, that in at least one corner of the NBA two franchises obstinately persist in consistency.