Every so often in the NBA, there comes a time in which the structure of powers shift within the league. A game — a series that represents the beginning of a new era.
In 1991, it was Jordan’s Bulls that toppled the Western Conference juggernauts that were Magic’s Lakers. And in 1999 it was the then David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs that burst onto the scene by taking advantage of a Jordan-less eastern conference by besting the New York Knicks, 4-1.
Since then, San Antonio has held the throne in the West. And for 18 years, they’ve met no team that has challenged their long-term supremacy.
2017 could be a different story, however, as the Golden State Warriors will take on the Gregg Popovic-led Spurs in the Western Conference finals. And the outcome could both mark the end of one era while solidifying the another. Sure, the Warriors have found their way into some regular season success over Pop’s crew, but the true mark of a regime change must come with playoff marbles on the table.
Warriors Interim Head Coach Mike Brown attempted to identify the reason for San Antonio’s extended stretch of dominance, he said:
“I mean, if you think about it, there’s one common denominator: it’s Grep Popovic. His leadership, his foresight and the foundation he established there way back in the day is still in play.”
But the Warriors will enter the series on May 14 as the young guns — despite their own accolades — looking to knock down the tested and proven Spurs, and swipe supremacy from their collective grasp.
Five championship rings and eight previous Western Conference Finals appearances have cemented San Antonio in the realm of dynastic franchises, alongside the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s and the Lakers of the 80’s.
In three years of sheer dominance, the Warriors have boasted two 67-win seasons while also setting an NBA record with 73 wins in 2016.
Two consecutive trips to the finals and one champion’s banner in that same timespan has risen the Dubs to the top of the list of possible successors.
The only thing missing from the already impressive resume compiled by the Warriors is a playoff series win over the currently reigning Spurs, as they have miraculously dodged San Antonio in each of the past two playoff runs.
The last time the two teams faced each other in post-season action was in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals. In that series, the Spurs would flex their muscles over Golden State, finishing the best-of-seven matchup in six games, cinching defeat in the heart of Oakland.
Since then though, things have changed in Golden State.
For one, they are led by a head coach of Pop’s pedigree. Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since the first round by back pain stemming from a botched 2015 surgery, has led the Dubs to unrivaled heights — notably, an NBA-record 207 wins in a three-season span. In his absence, fellow Popovic protege, Brown, has stepped into the enviable role.
Stephen Curry has also blossomed into a two-time MVP and perhaps the most polarizing figure in all of the NBA.
And finally, the Warriors have gotten a taste of what championship champagne, after winning the franchise’s first title since 1975.
But for all of the changes that have taken place in Oakland, things look a lot different in San Antonio as well.
While Popovich remains the puppet master, pulling the strings of organization, his roster has both lost and gained some crucial pieces.
Following a second round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016, the cornerstone of the Spurs franchise, Tim Duncan, retired from basketball after an illustrious 17-year career.
Tony Parker has also begun to see the down-side of his career and will be out for the remainder of the playoffs due to a quadriceps tendon.
The fact of the matter is that Golden State has become a different team since 2013 and looks primed to take the reins away from Pop and the Spurs. And if history is any indicator, the Spurs should be cleaning the place up and seeking their deposits as the Warriors will be moving in as the team to beat — at least in the west — for the foreseeable future.