The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz in incredibly easy fashion in the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs, looking completely unstoppable in the process. And it wasn't just because they were facing the Jazz. This Spurs team can only be knocked out of these playoffs by themselves.
That can be said of few teams. Some may say it about the Miami Heat, while others I’m sure used similar phrasing to describe the Michael Jordan-era in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant one in Los Angeles. But this Spurs team is the only squad truly deserving of such high praise in these playoffs.
San Antonio can only beat themselves in this postseason. When the Spurs are on their A game, there isn’t a team in the league that can beat them. Their depth, balance of youth and experience and coaching make them that team.
Deeper than Deep
This year’s incarnation of the San Antonio Spurs is probably one of the deepest teams in NBA playoff history. Few championship-caliber squads play as many men in each game as the Spurs do, even going back to the great Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers dynasties of old.
The Spurs literally go 12 men deep in almost every single game, including their current playoff run. In fact, in their run, they have 11 guys who have played in all four games, and two more who have played in three of the four.
Sometimes when we hear of a team that rotates that deeply, a certain assumption or connotation pops into our minds. We think that maybe they lack true star power and merely play that many guys to outlast other teams. While the Spurs have become gunners on offense, a lack of star power isn’t a problem.
The Spurs start Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, both of whom have been NBA Finals MVPs and won multiple championships. Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson both come off the bench as veteran playmakers who both have rings and can make things happen on offense.
Those are four legit stars, even if they may not all be superstars. When you add the other role players like Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Mills, DeJuan Blair, and others to the mix, you get a team that is almost too deep.
Not Old, but Not Too Young Either
The Spurs also have the best mix of veteran leadership and young talent in the NBA. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili lead the team with ringed fingers, despite many saying before the season that all three were over the hill (odd for Parker, since he’s just 29).
Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard (a rookie), Daniel Green (third year), Patrick Mills (third year), DeJuan Blair (third year), Tiago Splitter (second year) and Gary Neal (second year) all make significant contributions as well.
This mix gives the Spurs the veteran, championship-caliber leadership to weather playoff adversity, and the young legs to keep up with younger, more athletic teams. It is a potent mix that won 50 out of 66 games in the regular season and secured the No. 1 seed in the West.
Now that Phil Jackson is out of the NBA (at least for now), Gregg Popovich is clearly the best coach in the league. He’s won four championships over the course of his coaching career, with the same essential group of players.
Recently, he has done a masterful job of protecting his older players by resting them adequately and surrounding them with young talent. His ability to coach his team to run his system to perfection and find the right players to do it (along with Spurs GM R.C. Buford) is incredible and makes him a mismatch against any potential coaching opposition.
Who Will Defeat Them?
It doesn't look good for any of the Spurs' potential playoff opponents from here on out.
The Los Angeles Clippers have talent, but they lack the defensive intensity to stop the Spurs' fast, spread offense. Chris Paul is great, but he can’t guard Tony Parker. Meanwhile, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter are enough to contain LA's bigs, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The LA Lakers could give the Spurs problems down low with their size, with two seven-footers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. However, the Lakers will have difficulty containing Parker, Ginobili and Stephen Jackson all at once, given the ability of each to create shots for themselves and others.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is dangerous for any team to face. However, one fact that does weigh heavily on the minds of Thunder fans is how dominant the Spurs defeated the Thunder in the regular season. The Thunder had difficulty containing Parker and limiting the three-point shooting of San Antonio, and lost two of the three meetings.
The Boston Celtics would make a very intriguing NBA Finals matchup for the Spurs, but still probably won't be all that tough. They are very similar teams, however. The one difference is the Spurs have much more youth and depth on their side. They could wear Boston out in a seven-game series, should it get to that.
The Miami Heat showed last season that they can be beaten by a veteran-laden team that can play solid defense and spread the floor with perimeter shooters. That is a skill of this year’s Spurs squad.
When you look at all the facts, it really isn’t fair. San Antonio is deep, well coached and experienced, while also young. Their championship pedigree is still there, and have displayed it so far this season.
The only team that can beat the Spurs is the Spurs. And judging from the way they have played so far this season and postseason, that should terrify the rest of the playoff teams.