NBA's Spurs Make Waves With Winning Streak

The NBA conference finals are in full swing and are showcasing different styles of basketball. The San Antonio Spurs are playing a controlled, team-oriented game, while the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are pushing ahead with game plans that focus on individual skill and athletic power. Though, they have moments of teamwork too.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Something special is happening in the NBA playoffs and San Antonio fans hope it continues tonight. The Spurs are shooting for their 21st win in a row. They're playing Oklahoma City in game three of the Western Conference finals. San Antonio is undefeated in the playoffs, 10 and 0, and the talk isn't just about the Spurs winning, but about how they're doing it.

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: They are doing it like only a few before them. Think 1977 when the Bill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers embraced the unselfish game all the way to a championship. Think 1970 when the New York Knicks did the same, playing the kind of basketball that still elicits reverence among fans and in this NBA TV documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They adhered to an egalitarian system, whose principles were straightforward.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The open man philosophy, hitting the open man, not looking at who's in the uniform, but when you see a white shirt open, get the ball to that man.

GOLDMAN: Forty-two years later, specifically Tuesday night against the Thunder, there were so many plays when every San Antonio player touched the ball on offense, when a good pass to an open man was followed by a great pass to a more open player. When the five Spurs on the floor played with the keen rhythm and flawless execution of a jazz quintet in full flight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOLDMAN: But credit the Thunder. They found a way to stop the Spurs' music.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

MARV ALBERT: And (unintelligible), and Splitter...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The Hack-a Splitter, Marv.

ALBERT: The Hack-a Splitter.

GOLDMAN: Late in the third period, Oklahoma City intentionally fouled Tiago Splitter on five straight possessions. The Spurs center is not a good free-throw shooter. Hack-a-Splitter stopped San Antonio's offense and, with the quintet suddenly out of rhythm, the Thunder made a run. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has used the hack-a strategy himself, despite what he said after the game.

GREGG POPOVICH: I've never done that before. I think it's a really lousy thing to do.

(LAUGHTER)

POPOVICH: It's unsportsmanlike and - no. It's a good move.

GOLDMAN: Good enough to win tonight and climb back into the series? Don't put it past the Thunder to grind the game to an ugly halt and don't put it past Popovich to use the strategy in a finals match-up that looks like Spurs versus Miami. Hack-a-Heat, maybe?

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Free throws so critical in games like this. Garnett excellent from the line. Miami's already missed 11 free throws. The Celtics have only missed three.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Miami's already missed 11 free throws. The Celtics have only missed three.

GOLDMAN: The Heat ended up missing 16 last night in the game on ESPN, but they still nipped Boston 115 to 111 in overtime. Celtics point guard Rajon Rando had a game for the ages. He played every minute, had 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds. But Miami had enough to counter and enough was more than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

For several games now, contributions from the likes of Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers have given the Heat a definite ensemble feel, which is good, because if they can hold off the Celtics and get two more wins and the Spurs do the same with Oklahoma City, Miami will need everything it has to face the music playing down in San Antonio.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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