Hobbling down the court with a pulled hamstring, guarded by one of the league’s stingiest defenses, Chris Paul, star point guard of the Los Angeles Clippers, made a play that Hollywood will never forget. In a super competitive first round playoff matchup between the Clippers and the defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs, Paul carved his name into the likes of basketball game seven legends. With the game tied at 109, the series tied 3-3 and with only a few seconds left on the clock Paul charged down the right side of the key, quickly shedding his defender Danny Green before banking a shot against the backboard over the arms of legendary center, Tim Duncan. The masterpiece of a shot put the Clips up 111-109 with a second left on the clock, securing Paul and his Los Angeles squad a trip to the second round.
Symbolically, the shot can be interpreted as a changing of the guard in the NBA. On Saturday night, the Clippers eliminated the era’s most dominant team. Under the leadership of Duncan and coach Greg Popovich, the Spurs have won 5 NBA Championships since 1999 and were in contention to add another ring to their blinged-out hands before the surging Clips sent the Spurs home in the first round. It was the first time the Spurs have been eliminated before Conference Championship round since 2011 when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks. While the Clippers’ first round triumph may signal the beginning of their period of prominence, it may also be recalled as the end of the Spurs as we currently know them.
The future of San Antonio’s big three composed of Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili is not clear especially as Duncan and Ginobili are 39 and 37 years old respectively and stand at the edge of retirement. Additionally threatening the Spurs’ future prospects is the fact that the three time NBA Coach of the Year, Greg Popovich claims that he will retire whenever Duncan chooses to.
Duncan and Ginobili both become free agents after this season requiring the Spurs to sign them to new contracts unless they want to see the two aging players in another team’s uniform. That is of course if the two do not decide to retire this offseason. With the fate of the Spurs destined to drastically change whenever Duncan chooses to retire, the role of NBA top dog will soon be up for grabs, leaving teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Paul’s Clippers primed to capture league dominance.
After the controversy surrounding the Clippers during last year’s playoff surrounding racist comments made by former team owner Donald Sterling, it is refreshing to see the Clips succeed. Under the leadership of new owner Steve Ballmer, who bought the Clippers for an estimated two billion dollars in 2014, the Clippers have not missed a beat and appear to be playoff juggernaut with excellent play coming from Paul, center Deandre Jordan and Mayor of Lob City, Blake Griffin.
When asked about retirement by ESPN, Ginobili seemed unsure stating, “I don’t know. It could happen easily. I still don’t know what I want to do and I don’t want to make decisions right after the disappointment [of] a game like this.” Despite uncertainty about returning, what is sure about the Spurs’ elder statesmen is that they can still play. During the seven game playoff series, Ginobili averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 assists a game and Duncan averaged an impressive double double with 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds.
As Chris Paul and the Clippers take on the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs and Duncan’s NBA future remains unsure, let’s remember Saturday’s game as a time when two of the NBA’s best shared the floor and reminded us how everything must come and go. If that Clippers-Spurs showdown turns out to be Duncan’s game 7, I believe that as Duncan’s chapter in the NBA concludes, Paul’s chapter of dominance is just about to begin.