Why the Spurs Could Capture the Title
May 7, 2012 by Stephen Kerr • Print Story •
Now that the NBA postseason is underway, speculation abounds as to who will be crowned the next champion. Will this finally be the year LeBron James gets his title with the Miami Heat, or will Kobe Bryant steal another one for the Lakers? Perhaps the Oklahoma City Thunder will bring a title to that city with Kevin Durant, or maybe the Chicago Bulls can overcome the devastating loss of Derrick Rose to a season-ending knee injury.
While most of the playoff guessing game centers around these possibilities, there's another team setting its sights on the league's big prize, but hardly anyone is noticing, except their fans. The San Antonio Spurs could have something to say about who grabs the brass ring. After a slow start to an already compressed season due to the lockout, the Spurs galloped into the postseason with the best record and the top seed in the Western Conference.
Could Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have enough left in the tank for another championship? Here are five reasons the answer may be a resounding yes!
After the first 21 games, the Spurs looked more like an average team than a championship-caliber juggernaut. Their record was 12-9, and many wondered if they would even be in the playoff hunt by the end of the season.
The Spurs then went on a nearly month-long road trip while the At&T Center hosted San Antonio's annual Livestock Show and Rodeo. That's when the Silver and Black suddenly found its stride, putting together three double-digit winning streaks en route to an astounding 38-7 record over the last 45 regular season games. They entered the postseason having won 10 straight, after reeling off two separate 11-game winning streaks over a two-month period.
During their 38-7 stretch, the Spurs averaged a league-best 106 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor, and 39.7 percent from three-point range, both league highs. The offensive firepower wasn't limited to Duncan, Parker, or Ginobili, as 10 different players led the team in scoring. San Antonio finished the regular season ranked in the top five in points per game (103.7), field goal percentage (.478), three-point shooting percentage (.393), assists per game (23.1), and fewest turnovers per game (13.5).
While most teams narrow their rotation to seven or eight players, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is not shy about going deep into his bench. Eleven players have averaged 19 or more minutes this season. The New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, and New York Knicks are the only other teams with 10 or more players averaging 19 or more minutes.
The Spurs bench scored an NBA season-high 82 points in an April 6 win over the New Orleans Hornets, and averaged a league-best 41.9 points per game. Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter make the Spurs second unit one of the most formidable in the league, allowing Popovich to keep his troops fresh during the playoffs.
3. Experience Blended With Youth
Since Tim Duncan joined the Spurs prior to the 1997-98 season, the team has won four NBA championships and eight division titles. During that stretch, they have a .702 winning percentage, the best mark of any team in the four major professional sports, and have made the playoffs 15 consecutive years, the longest active streak in the NBA.
Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have each scored over 10,000 points during their career with San Antonio, making them the only active Big Three to play on the same team and score over 10,000 points, and just the fourth threesome in league history to accomplish the feat.
While Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have been a consistent stabilizing force, the Spurs front office has kept the team fresh by adding other veterans and young talent through the draft and free agency. Eight of the 14 players from this year's roster have less than three years of NBA experience.
In a March 23 trade, the Spurs reacquired Stephen Jackson from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Richard Jefferson, T.J. Ford, and a protected first-round pick. That same month, they signed Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. All three have given the team much-needed depth during their late-season run.
4. Solid Coaching
If you're the general manager, and you decide to replace the head coach with yourself, it isn't always a popular decision, particularly among your fans. Such was the case with Gregg Popovich when he replaced Bob Hill with himself as Spurs head coach in 1996.
After nearly 16 seasons, the only grumbling you hear comes from opposing teams and their fans. Popovich, who relinquished his GM duties in 2002 in order to concentrate fully on coaching, surpassed Red Auerbach in April for second place on the all-time wins list with one team with 847. His tenure with the same team is the longest of any coach in all four major professional sports.
Popovich just picked up his second Coach of the Year award to go along with the one he earned in 2003. He's been named Coach of the Month 14 times during his career, including back-to-back months in February and March this year. His ability to mold an ever-changing team into a cohesive unit is one of the reasons the Spurs have won consistently during his reign.
Last season, the Spurs entered the playoffs as the Western Conference top seed, only to be sent packing in six games by the Memphis Grizzlies. Fans were wondering if the teams slow start this season was due to the extended lockout and shorter preseason, or the sting of their first-round playoff exit.
The biggest difference between last year's playoffs and this year's is health. Ginobili's late-season injury kept him out of the Memphis series, but he, Duncan, and Parker all appear to be healthy. Gregg Popovich even rested his three stars the last several games of the regular season, so they shouldn't be as battle-weary during the intense postseason.
The Spurs will certainly have their hands full, no doubt about it. Even if they go beyond the Western Conference Finals, they may have to face a Miami Heat team that's looking for some redemption of their own. The Dallas Mavericks denied LeBron and Co. a championship by beating them in last year's finals, and the pressure to win is even stronger this year. But with the momentum and offensive explosiveness combined with a rejuvenated Tim Duncan, better depth, experience mixed with youth, and great coaching, the Spurs are just as motivated to win "one for the thumb."