The regular season isn’t over for the San Antonio Spurs (49-16), as they still have one game remaining tonight in Golden State. If the Spurs win, they’ll end the season having being the only team in the NBA this season to have three double-digit winning streaks.
To have three double-digit winning streaks in one season, and lose less than two games in a row is something no short of amazing. How did this team once again win their conference after failing in such a poor outcome last season, while achieving even more success in a much more compressed, shortened season?
The Spurs had some new faces put onto the team at the beginning of the season; they welcomed back a healthy Manu Ginobili, while also adding rookie Kawhi Leonard and veteran T.J. Ford. Ginobili would go out on January 2nd in Minnesota, where he was sidelined for a good chunk of the season. Danny Green would do what James Anderson was supposed to do as the relief shooting guard for Ginobili, while Gary Neal also found his way back into the Spurs’ rotation by showing the ability to play point guard, while also showcasing even more offensive fire power in his arsenal.
Now let’s go to January 29th in Dallas, Texas. The Spurs lost to the Mavericks in overtime, and were 12-9 at the time during the season. The significance this game had on the team’s future throughout the rest of the season is very difficult to describe with words. The Mavericks were rocking the Spurs so head coach Gregg Popovich decided to put the second unit into the game late in the third quarter. That second unit made a memorable comeback and forced overtime without the starters. Coach Popovich made the decision to stick with the second unit as opposed to reinserting the starters, and though the Spurs lost that night, the amount of pride and cohesiveness gained that night on the floor is what could eventually lead to the Spurs winning their fifth NBA championship.
From that one late January night in Dallas, the Spurs would go 37-7 through the rest of the season entering tonight. Through that time period, several moves were made. Ford made the cautious decision to retire because of a stinger to the upper neck area he received on March 7, versus the New York Knicks, and the team traded Richard Jefferson for Stephen Jackson on the NBA trade deadline date. Jackson would appear in his first game back with the Spurs on March 17, six days later Boris Diaw was signed by the Spurs after being released by the Charlotte Bobcats, and would play his first minutes in a Spurs jersey on March 23. Four days after Diaw made his debut, the Spurs unveiled new backup point guard Patty Mills, who made his way into a game on the March 27. The team was set and is currently 13-2 through 15 games in Aprl with the revamped roster. You’ve got to give R.C. Buford a lot of the credit for these moves.
Here’s a look at how the Spurs’ season has shaped out on a month-by-month basis this season.
- December: 4 games, 3-1
- January: 18 games, 10-8 – Key moment: Lose Ginobili to injury. Loss to Mavericks January 29.
- February: 13 games, 11-2
- March: 15 games, 12-3 – Add Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills. Lose T.J. Ford, trade Richard Jefferson.
- April: 15 games (1 remaining), 13-2 – Best projection of playoff squad
From December to that Dallas game in late January, the Spurs didn’t have a strong identity as to which team they were going to be this season. Ginobili was injured and the team was playing inconsistent basketball, losing to teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, and Sacramento Kings. They were even blown-out against the Miami Heat in the teams’ only meeting.
After that loss to Dallas, the first 11-game winning streak began from January 30 to February 20. The second winning streak would begin after the Spurs lost yet again to the Mavericks in their first game with Jackson, as the team won games from March 21 to April 8. And lastly, their current winning streak began with an embarrassing loss at home to the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers, as this winning streak began on April 12, and has carried onward.
So, the Spurs have locked up the number one seed, and are ready for the playoffs. The same could have been said last year, but what makes this teams possible future success any different from last season?
In my opinion, there are two reasons why this team should not have a round one upset, and has a chance to go all the way.
Reason 1) Health – Ginobili was the only member of the ‘Big three’ who missed an extended amount of games this season. On the bright side, his most significant injury came very early in the season. Because of his injury, Green was able to flourish into the starting shooting guard he is today. This season players have been in and out of the lineup for different reasons, but none have been out because of a major injury. Coach Popovich has limited the veteran players’ minutes well by sitting some or all of the ‘Big three’ on different nights, as well as establishing an offensive system that allows Duncan to mainly shoot jumpers or score off layups and dunks. He also didn’t want history repeating itself like last year, when Ginobili broke his arm in the final game of the season against the Phoenix Suns. Coach Popovich has decided to keep the ‘Big three’ in San Antonio and miss the final two regular season games. A healthy Spurs team against that Grizzlies team last year could have wound up being a different story, but most feel the Spurs weren’t deep enough to have made a serious run.
Reason 2) Depth – 25 wins, 9 losses. What do these numbers mean? The significance of these numbers is what really shows off the Spurs’ depth and ability to win this season. The team has played 34 total games against all 15-playoff teams this season, and only lost nine of those games.
Here’s a month-by-month look at how this has happened.
- December: 3 games vs. MEM-LAC-UTA = 3-0
- January: 8 games vs. DAL-DEN-OKC-MIA-ORL-ATL-DAL-MEM = 5-3
- February: 7 games vs. OKC-MEM-PHI-LAC-UTA-DEN-CHI = 6-1
- March: 9 games vs. DEN-NYK-LAC-ORL-OKC-DAL-DAL-PHI-IND = 6-3
- April: 7 games vs. BOS-UTA-UTA-LAL-MEM-LAL-LA = 5-2
Three losses are the most the Spurs lost to a playoff-level team in a month this year, just three. The Spurs’ depth is what has made them the toughest team to match up against because Coach Popovich can use a variety of lineups starting, during, and closing a game. The Spurs want to do one thing against their opponent, make them run up and down the floor by speeding up the tempo. It doesn’t matter if the opponent has more height, athleticism, or composure; the Spurs have shown that they can ware a team out with their constant ability to score the basketball. Tony Parker is producing an MVP season in which he’s not just scoring, but also showing the passing numbers at the highest rate in his career. The Spurs have perimeter defenders in Green, Leonard, and Jackson. They have solved their frontcourt depth issue by substituting Blair anytime they play a tall team, by throwing Splitter and Diaw into the mix. The Spurs haven’t really shown a major weakness this season since January 29, when they lost to the Mavericks.
Sure the Lakers were one of the few teams who slowed down the tempo and beat the Spurs, but the Spurs went on to blow them out in the next two meetings because the Lakers just couldn’t sustain the halfcourt offense for a full 48 minutes, the Spurs can.
I’ve gone to almost all of the home games this season at the AT&T Center and almost every opposing player or coach says the same key words about the Spurs. SHARING-TOGETHER-DIFFICULT TO MATCHUP-BIG THREE-COACH POP-DEEP BENCH-SMART ON DEFENSE. There are more key words in there, but any coach or players talks about the Spurs with those words both before and after a game. These are the words that harness exactly who the Spurs are this season. They’re not only one of the most dangerous teams on offense, but their defense is still respected amongst most of their peers. You can tell that teams that see the camaraderie the Spurs have in their locker room as it’s shown on the floor, is something players wish they could have back, or have once in their career, as evidenced by Roger Mason Jr. when he visited with the Wizards earlier this season.
I know the saying is, “defense wins championships,” but this could be the first team that could change that slogan because this team wins by outscoring their opponent. Though their numbers don’t show it, they can actually put together a really good defensive quarter, and in this league where offense is becoming the primary weapon in winning, a plate full of offense and a side of defense might be all you need in the end.
The season is coming to a close, well have to wait and see what happens this weekend in the playoffs, but my thoughts tell me there will be a much more different outcome than last year.