In my previous article, I talked about a couple of the top teams in the East. Its time to turn our attention to the West.
When the horn sounded in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals and the confetti rained from the ceiling of the American Airlines Center, there was a collective sigh of relief amongst non-Spurs fans. San Antonio, it seemed, had given its best, but had seen its last hurrah. Tim Duncan was aging, Tony Parker was past his prime, and Kawhi Leonard, while certainly key during the playoff run, couldn’t be expected to fill the shoes of multiple aging stars at once. The Heat, it seemed, had struck the final blow – the era was over.
Fast forward less than a year, and any remote notion of the Spurs slipping from the top of the basketball echelon seems ludicrous. The team is fresh off a 19-game win streak, ended only by the equally talented Oklahoma City Thunder.
How have they done it? Can we expect their astounding success to continue into playoff time? The answer lies with multiple factors.
Tim Duncan has been ageless
NBA players may not go through the same wear and tear as athletes in strictly contact sports, but playing game after game for seasons on end has a physical and emotional toll on even the finest in the business. At the ripe old age of 37, and after having played since 1997, Duncan does an admirable job of stuffing the stat sheet. He is just shy of averaging a double-double. His defense is solid (almost two blocks per game) and he’s contributing on the offensive end with 15.2 points per game (at the time of writing). What makes his success sustainable is that he hasn’t had to carry the load which leads to the second factor.
The bench has been effective
Actually, this seems to be a bit of an understatement. Fantastic, perhaps? Phenomenal? When the Spurs’ starters run out of gas, the team doesn’t miss a beat. During the win streak, the bench averaged 50.4 points per game (as per Darnell Mayberry’s excellent piece in The Oklahoman), and this success can be traced directly to the contributions of several key players. Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Marco Bellinelli all chip in cool double-digit contributions while playing limited minutes. On a team with aging core players, these additions have allowed the coaching staff to adjust so that the team stays fresh for the Playoffs.
Gregg Popovich has been… well… Gregg Popovich
‘Pop’ has been around for just about as long as anyone can remember, and few doubt that he is one of the best, if not THE very best, in the business. His coaching has endeared himself to his players, and he is a perfect representation of his team; grizzled, tough, and experienced. When the Spurs make a deep run into the Playoffs once again, and rest assured they will, Popovich will again be an asset at the helm.
There’s no question that the Spurs are getting up there in age. Soon enough, what Duncan finds routine today – for example, dropping 30 points without blinking an eye – will seem Herculean, and Tony Parker will no longer be able to handle back-to-backs seamlessly. There’s a time in the future when Popovich trades in his suit for a comfortable and well-deserved retirement. A day will come when San Antonio is not a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, for the rest of the NBA though, that day is not today.