My unadultered, somewhat misguided, and certainly geographically tainted hatred for the San Antonio Spurs had dissipated over the last few years.
Certainly, the Phoenix Suns' clean sweep of the aging Spurs in the 2010 playoffs played a part in my transformation. Even when the Spurs beat the Suns easily over the past two seasons, it wasn't the same. The Suns have been noncompetitive as a team, rather than simply against the mighty Spurs. Even Spurs PG Tony Parker knew the jig was up. He said openly last spring that the Spurs were done winning championships.
Even this season, as the Spurs were inexplicably winning games like crazy again, my ire didn't get rankled. I watched the struggling Suns come close a few times, which in my mind meant that the Spurs were just squeaking by and likely would be exposed by younger, more-talented teams in the playoffs.
My hatred shifted to the pompous Lakers and Kobe Bryant's life long attempt to wash the 2006 playoffs from his mind by blasting the Suns in every game since. But you can never forget 2006, Kobe. It's always going to be there. And so my hatred for the Spurs faded, even partially replaced with a modicum of respect.
Then last night happened.
Game 1 of the Spurs/Thunder series brought me back to 2007 all over again. The Thunder are younger, fresher and more eye-catching than the Spurs. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are unstoppable in their own ways and no less unguardable than the Nash/Stoudemire/Marion triumvirate.
Yet the Spurs found a way to frustrate every one of the Thunder stars in Game 1, and ultimately won the game convincingly despite being down for most of it.
Popovich's fourth quarter speech in the huddle even sounded reminiscent of a Game 1 2007 speech, in both cases when the game was in the balance. Last night it was "get nasty". Five years ago, it was "every rebound...every loose ball..." Both delivered with calm and certainty that his team would respond. And each time, they did.
As I watched the fourth quarter unfold, I couldn't help feeling a sense of deja vu. Spurs players taking charges. Thunder losing their cool, just a little bit. The star PG on the floor in pain. Ginobili gyrating to baskets, and fist-pumping his way to the free throw line for the and-1. And the Spurs take the lead, and don't give it up.
Game 1 of this hotly anticipated series between the Spurs and Thunder is in the books. And as usual, the Spurs have the upper hand. I sat there seeing the future unfold before my eyes. The Thunder will regain their footing in this series, but just long enough for the Spurs to rip the rug back out from under them. And the next time, it will be for good.
I hate the Spurs. Again.
The only question is who will play the Robert Horry role for the Spurs in game 4. All the other Spurs culprits are still in place.