SAN ANTONIO -- There would be edge-of-your-seat drama and real-life warmth. There would be a clash of styles as well as cultures. And in the end, the proverbial torch would either be retained or forcibly passed.
Warriors-Spurs is the postseason series we’ve been waiting for, right? It’s the organized chaos of new-age ingenuity versus old-school stability that has become tradition, with the potential of generational shift. At last, the matchup fate somehow deprived us of the past two years.
Such enormous promise, and all of it has broken into tiny pieces that may as well be scattered from California to Texas.
The Warriors are missing their head coach, Steve Kerr, a disciple of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, with the two maintaining a long and great friendship.
The Spurs are without their floor catalysts, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, which has left them and without any chance of making these Western Conference Finals genuinely competitive.
Indeed, as the teams reconvene Monday night for Game 4 -- with San Antonio on the brink of elimination — the series limps along with the most compelling aspect being whether the Warriors can become the first team to begin a postseason with 12 straight wins.
Rather than competing against the Spurs, the Warriors are trying to race into the record book.
The only other fascination comes in studying what the Warriors are doing to the Spurs for the sole purpose of comparing them with what the Cavaliers are doing to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Warriors have won the first three games of the series by an average of 16.7 points. They’ve played at a level of 7.5 on their 10-scale, yet the only moments where there seemed even the remotest threat from the Spurs came and went in the first 30 or so minutes of Game 1, before Leonard was injured.
Meanwhile, the defending champion Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics in Game 1 and Game 2, winning by a combined 57 points before the Celtics pulled off an upset in Game 3 Sunday night.
That the Cavs have looked to be the sharper team is perhaps because the playoff Spurs are more formidable than the playoff Celtics.
Yet the Warriors have been impressive enough to leave Popovich and his players grasping for any shred of solace.
“I thought they did a great job,” Popovich said late Saturday night, after 120-108 Warriors victory. “They competed really well. Couldn't ask any more from them competitiveness-wise.”
Said Manu Ginobili: “For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level and they have to play at a 7. And we have to try to make them play at a 7 and play our best game. We know it's going to be very tough.”
This is not as it was supposed to be. The Spurs are the NBA’s gold standard, with 20 consecutive seasons of at least 50 wins and that many consecutive seasons in the playoffs. They were winning championships when NFL coach Bill Belichick was an assistant with the New York Jets. They won three championships during the George W. Bush administration and added another during when Barack Obama was in the White House. The Spurs have escorted two players into the Hall of Fame, with at least three more and a coach still to come.
The Warriors established themselves by winning a championship in 2015, but because they go through San Antonio there remained some uncertainty as to whether they were superior to the Spurs. Nothing changed last season, when the Warriors returned to The Finals, once again without facing the Spurs.
So this was the series that would end any and all skepticism and speculation. The Spurs did their part, blasting the Warriors on Opening Night and pushing them throughout the season, posting a 61-21 record that was second only to the Warriors.
As the Warriors were ousting the Trail Blazers and the Jazz, the Spurs were shedding the Grizzlies and the Rockets. The stage was set, the curtain raised and the show has been so . . . anticlimactic.
The surest sign a team has arrived in the NBA is when it takes out the Spurs in the playoffs. The Warriors, who likely would do that if the Spurs were fully healthy, are on the verge of doing it except not in the series as we wanted.