published Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Wiedmer: Both Fed and the Spurs running out of time

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) shoots against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in overtime of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals NBA playoff series in Oklahoma City on May 31, 2014.
San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) shoots against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in overtime of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals NBA playoff series in Oklahoma City on May 31, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts after missing a return during the fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Latvia's Ernests Gulbis at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France, on June 1, 2014.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Older than dirt.

Those were the words San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich used late Saturday night to describe the vast majority of his team after its Western Conference series-clinching overtime win at Oklahoma City.

Yet anyone wishing to predict how the Spurs might do in their second straight trip to the NBA Finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat might do well to observe tennis great Roger Federer's exit from the French Open on Sunday.

Losing for the first time in a decade before the quarterfinals, Federer finally proved too old for dirt -- or at least the red clay version of it -- in a five-set loss to the enigmatic Ernests Gulbis.

Much as the Spurs' three best players -- Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (36) and Tony Parker (32) -- are all approaching antique status for professional athletes, Federer is less than three months from turning 33.

Nor is that a young 33, no matter how healthy the Fed has been for most of his matchless career as a 17-time Grand Slam winner. You just don't reach 36 straight Grand Slam quarters -- as the Swiss maestro did prior to last year's second-round Wimbledon loss _ without running near empty.

While he's almost always been judicious in his overall tournament schedule, Federer has pretty much run the maximum number of miles in the majors. Such prolonged excellence takes its physical toll and the same could be said for the Spurs, who won the first of their four championships with Duncan in 1999, but have also reached the conference semis on four other occasions and the conference finals three other times.

Beyond that, San Antonio has won at least 53 of 82 regular-season games at least 13 times since 1999, so there hasn't been any lolly-gagging waiting for the postseason to begin.

But there haven't been a lot of major championships of late for either the Spurs or Federer. San Antonio hasn't won it all since 2007. Only two of Federer's 17 majors have come since the close of 2009 and none since an unexpected Wimbledon crown in 2012.

So when it comes to major titles, both the Spurs and Regal Roger have been suffering through a trophy drought.

That said, the class with which they've both conducted themselves through the years shouldn't be taken for granted. Neither is much for trash-talking. The next time either Federer or a Spur blows into the ear of an opponent -- a la the Indiana Pacers' stupidly firing up the Heat's LeBron James -- would be the first.

In fact, other than the sublime beauty and sustained brilliance each entity has observed for the vast majority of his work, both Fed and the Spurs could be labeled almost boring, especially off the court.

Yet just as the artist Federer has struggled throughout his career with the gifted force of nature that is Rafael Nadal, San Antonio figures to again have problems with the James Gang, especially LeBron, who can begin to threaten Michael Jordan's reputation as the best ever if he can win a third straight title.

It's not just that James isn't protected in the way that Jordan was by the officials at a time when the league seemed to need His Airness's perceived superiority in the post Bird-Magic era.

It's the fact that the guy's 6-8, at least 260 pounds and could probably both score and defend from every position on the floor with a reasonable degree of success.

Now throw in his rather decorated supporting cast of certain Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, possible HOF Chris Bosh and a cast of one thousand 3-point specialists -- six Heatles combined to hit Miami's 15 3-pointers in Game 5 -- and you see why San Antonio could swiftly be in serious trouble, especially if point guard Parker is dinged up after missing the second half of the final game against the Thunder with a left ankle injury.

This isn't to say the Spurs can't win. Miami is yet to face a team in these playoffs who's even half as fluid and productive on offense as San Antonio. The Spurs are also at least as deep, if not more so than the Heat.

And despite last year's crushing Finals loss to Miami _ the Spurs led by five with 28 seconds to go in what would have been a championship-clinching Game 6 before falling in overtime, then losing Game 7 _ they seem genuinely confident this time around.

"We'll do it this time," Duncan said on Sunday. "We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still."

It all sounds doable. And San Antonio will have the home court advantage when the Finals begin on Thursday night.

But Federer appeared to have the edge on Gulbis, too. Instead, his run of nine straight French Open quarterfinals done, he said of his defeat, "A lot of regrets. I just couldn't kind of figure it out."

Sad to say the classy Spurs will likely say something similar at the close of these Finals. Whether you're older than dirt or too old for dirt, time stops for no one.

Thanks to a return to the 2-2-1-1-1 format in the finals round for the first time since 1984, the Heat completes a three-peat in six.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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