Spurs’ Suffocating Defensive Quarters in last 4 games

AT&T CENTER – In the game of basketball, there are some special plays or possessions that can take place in game, such as an alley-oop dunk, a step-back 3-pointer off a crossover, or even a crazy pass between someone’s legs.

But for San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich Wednesday, his qualification for special in a statistical category was when his team was able to hold the visiting Detroit Pistons to just 14 points in the third quarter, and 16 points in the fourth quarter.

“I thought it was very good,” said Popovich of his team’s defense Wednesday. “We allowed 30 points in the second half. That’s pretty special if you can do that.”

Since this Spurs team got back both Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan in their lineup together in the last four games, they’ve been having some special quarters defensively, where they have held their last four opponents to individual quarters of less than 17 points in some cases.

Check out some of the Spurs’ best defensive quarters in their last four games, when looking at the opponents field goals made and attempted (OFGM/OFGA), opponent free throws made and attempted (OFTM/OFTA), and opponent turnovers (OTOs).

Opponent Quarter Points Allowed OFGM/OFGA OFTM/OFTA OTOs
Sacramento 2Q 14 6/26 (23.1%) 1 of 2 5
Utah 2Q 12 6/19 (31.6%) 0 of 0 3
Houston 1Q 11 5/18 (27.8%) 1 of 2 5
Detroit 3Q 14 4/18 (22.2%) 5 of 11 4
Detroit 4Q 16 5/18 (27.8%) 5 of 9 3

When the Spurs have their starting five on the floor of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Duncan, they’re not only good defensively, but they’re actually better numerically on defense than their number one ranked team defense. The Spurs’ defense holds teams to a league lowest 95.5 points per 100 possessions. In 34 games together, the Spurs’ starting five holds teams to 94.9 points per 100 possessions.

Before Wednesday’s game with Detroit, Pistons Head Coach Stan Van Gundy described some non-numeric reasons why San Antonio is so good defensively.

“They’re really good defensively,” said Van Gundy. “First of all, you just look personnel-wise, they’re really, really long. Duncan, Aldridge, Green and Kawhi Leonard, they’re really long. I think that’s where it starts. They play big most of the time, which is different than a lot of the team’s in this league now. Because of that, they get size around the rim the whole time and so it’s really tough to get baskets past them, and then, they’re a very experienced team also and so they really know what they’re doing. They know their system, they help each other. They’ve really got between their system and everybody knowing it and their physical characteristics, they’ve got a great, great defensive team.”

Van Gundy’s observations are validated by what some of the numbers say as well. In terms of getting baskets past the Spurs, the Spurs’ defense is ranked 7th in allowing the least amount of points in the paint, as team’s only score 40.5 points in the paint against the Spurs’ defense. Duncan (1.3 blocks) and Aldridge (1.1 blocks) each average over a block per game, while Leonard (0.9 blocks) and Green (0.8 blocks) are also very close to one block per game. Overall, in blocks, the Spurs swat 5.9 opponent shots per game, ranked 5th best in the league.

In getting back on fast breaks, the Spurs’ defense is ranked 7th in allowing the least amount of points on the break, at 11.3 points per game. The Spurs also often don’t let teams have many second chances once they get a stop, as San Antonio leads the league in allowing the fewest second chance points per game (10.4 points).

With the players understanding the system as Van Gundy mentioned and knowing when to help each other, the data reveals itself, as San Antonio holds teams to a league lowest points per game (92.3 points) and field goal percentage (43.3%). The Spurs also take away 3-pointers from teams, as they allow a league lowest 19.4 threes to opponents and the opponents make just 32.3% of those threes, which ranks San Antonio’s defense number one in opponent 3-point shooting.

Going back to the numbers of the Spurs’ stellar defensive quarters lately, aside from Wednesday, San Antonio often doesn’t bail teams out by letting them get to the free throw line, as the Spurs’ defense is allowing just 20.1 free throw attempts per game, tied for the 2nd lowest mark in the league.

Of their 60 opponents this season, Detroit became the 29th team the Spurs’ defense has held below 90 points in a game this season. The Spurs’ defense also has held 46 of their 60 opponents below 100 points this season, in a league where 22 of 30 teams score over 100 points on the average night.

Van Gundy began his quote Wednesday going from describing the Spurs’ defense as good to great by the end. Through 60 games, the data supports Van Gundy’s observation.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.