The San Antonio Spurs are undefeated in the playoffs, in the first round defeating the Utah Jazz and in the western conference semifinals sending the Los Angeles Clippers home. A tremendous achievement, and despite being under the radar, the Spurs have set the bar, and since the 1998-1999 season have one four championships, with possibly another to close out this season, and thus it would be worthwhile to pay attention to the paradigm that has produced these results.
It’s mentioned during every playoff season, defense wins championships, and yet despite the agreement that this is a well known truth defense is not always played at a high level. The Spurs have always bought in. Much has always been made of whether a team has the personnel to play defense, and as it should be, this is a factor, however, the greatest teams in the history of this game have always taken playing defense seriously and whether that was the strength or not the effort had to be there.
The Spurs can always adapt their offense and thus recognize what works best against each opponent. The majority of teams have one identity, they run the fast break well or run a half court offense well. From the Spurs, however, we’ve seen the pick and roll, scoring in the paint and the dribble drive offense.
San Antonio has never had a pecking order problem. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three consecutive championships, and had there been a solution to the ongoing issue of whose team it was and who got the most shots, another championship and possibly more might have been the result. The Spurs didn’t deal with such turmoil, when the Spurs won the championship in 1999, David Robinson understood that he had to hand over the franchise player role to Tim Duncan, and in the last several years Duncan followed the same example and shared that role with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the result has paid off. And as we have witnessed with another franchise adopting this method, the Boston Celtics, a team can remain competitive past its prime and defy the odds.
The Spurs of course arguably made another statement this season which has been largely defined by the Lockout, that small market teams can win in this league, and are not always at a disadvantage. There is no debate that larger markets, New York and Los Angeles, for example, have their advantages, however, the best recruiting tool is winning, and if that is achieved, things have a better chance of working out, regardless of location or the size of the market.
San Antonio currently waits on its next opponent to compete for the western conference title, and whether it’s the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder or an old foe in the Los Angeles Lakers, both matchups will be compelling and it will be interesting to notice how the Spurs respond to the speed of the Thunder or the size advantage, if utilized, and Bryant’s all around game of the Lakers.