Six days ago, all four conference semi-finals were tied 1-1. Since then, Miami and Memphis have taken control on their series and the Knicks appear to be unraveling. The Spurs-Warriors series wasn't supposed to be the most competitive of the bunch, but here we are, tied at 2-2 and both teams are good enough to advance.
It's a beautiful contrast of teams and players. The young up-and-comers against the established veterans. The broadcaster and preacher against the grumpy old guy who resents being asked questions on the sidelines. Isolation against ball movement. California vs. Texas.
We've come to expect this level of excellence from the Spurs. They've made the playoffs a thousand years in a row and they make crisp ball movement look sexy. Their star players are given appropriate rests and everyone knows their role. Despite injuries, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are playing well, just as we all expected. It's worked for years and is still working in 2013.
On the other hand, we've got the Warriors. They play a bunch of youngsters that have had their share of growing pains. They've given away games and can go minutes at a time looking like a lottery team. Youth is their blessing and their curse. Fortunately for Golden State, though, they're still getting better.
Rookie Harrison Barnes blew up in the last game and made people think that he was one of the steals of the 2012 draft. But Barnes isn't that good, at least not yet. This season his PER was 11. That's Alexey Shved and Johan Petro territory. But in the last game he had a season high 26 points and stepped up big time for the Warriors.
Steph Curry is the heart and soul of the team and the most exciting player around, but it's the team that's keeping them in the series. A hobbled Andrew Bogut is rebounding and playing great defense, helping the Warriors to win the two lowest scoring games of the series. The Warriors other rookies, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green, are pitching in too and Klay Thompson has proven that he can carry the team too when Curry can't.
Perhaps the most interesting contrast in this series is between the coaches, both of whom have gotten the most out of their players by rubbing their own personalities off onto their players.
Pop runs a tight ship and we know what we're going to get out of his team. Mark Jackson, like any good preacher, tries to impact his team through emotion and his team has responded. He's made his guys believe that they're better than they are.
Coach Popovich understands that confidence is the most dangerous opponent in basketball so tonight the Spurs will go for the early knockout. The longer the Dubs are in the game, the more they believe. And if the Warriors are within shouting distance at the beginning of the third quarter, look out.
There are so many reasons why this series is the most exciting of them all. In addition to the incredible coaching and effort on both sides, both teams' star players are battling through injuries. Tonight is going to be a war and, while the winner of game 5 will have a big advantage, this series is far from over no matter who wins tonight.