No one should be surprised anymore by the San Antonio Spurs' fast start to the post-season and, yes, I am including the 31-point dismantling of the Jazz in Game 2.
While all the regular season talk had centered on the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, the Spurs have quietly been far-and-away the best team in the league for at least the last four months.
They have cemented the foundation in the form of a core nucleus—Coach Gregg Popovich, the Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) and a perfect set of complementary players for their system.
Popovich is a coaching genius, as is reflected in the fact that he has completely transformed this unit from being a half court, deliberate offense to a fast-paced, fast-break engine predicated on an amazingly effective three-point shot.
Through this offensive transformation, the defensive intensity has stayed the same at its par-excellence levels. Coach Pop’s accomplishment is not restricted to his Xs-and-Os, though.
What he has been able to do in regards to player management and season management (resting the Big Three for back-to-back-to-backs, acquiring Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson off the proverbial flea market and creating tailor-made roles for Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Greene) is nothing short of brilliant.
One often finds that the team that ends the regular season on a high carries some of that winning feeling into the playoffs—and Utah might have been excused for feeling the same.
The problem, though, is that the current Spurs are too experienced, too clinical to let any team "ride the momentum," especially when the talent gap is fairly significant.
For the Jazz, the starting front court of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Josh Howard (their strength, coming in) is averaging a measly 30 points per game collectively.
The paint's been clogged by the Spurs' defense and the Jazz's 'bigs" are just not finding space to get easy buckets.
Despite their shortcomings thus far, the Jazz will find a way to use the Delta Center’s rabid, home-court advantage and win one of the next two games.
But that, unfortunately, will be the extent of their success this year.
I see San Antonio closing the series in five games.