With the second round of the playoffs underway, the cream of the NBA is beginning to rise to the top.
The most impressive playoff team so far? That would be the San Antonio Spurs.
All too often fans of every team are besieged by a barrage of cliches and catchphrases. You hear about how a team will "take it to the next level in the postseason."
That's what the Spurs are doing, though. San Antonio entered the playoffs with high expectations, but there were also some questions. Yes, the Spurs were the top seed, and they had the best regular season record in the NBA. They also were 16th in points allowed per game at 96.5 per game. That's an unremarkable ranking for a Spurs team with its sights set on the fifth title of the Popovich-Duncan era.
In San Antonio's other four championship seasons—1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007—the Spurs were third in points allowed in 1999 and 2003, and first in the league in 2005 and 2007. Would the Spurs be able to rise to the occasion?
Ask the Jazz or the Clippers. Ask anyone that's been watching the NBA Playoffs. The Spurs are currently seventh in points allowed per game at 87.4. That's an improvement of 9.1 points per game from the regular season. Better still, the Spurs are first this postseason in point differential. San Antonio is beating its opponents by an average of 16 points per game.
Watching a Spurs playoff game this season has been fairly boring. San Antonio wears opponents down with impressive defense and an offense that is seemingly always on the attack. The Spurs are deep; they have solid veteran leadership and hungry young players with limitless energy.
San Antonio can get out in transition and run, or they can operate with surgical precision, slicing up opposing defenses with deliberate and effective half-court sets.
Just how good is this Spurs team? This team is deeper than the previous championship teams with up to 10 players getting meaningful time. Tim Duncan isn't quite as dominant as he was in his heyday. Tony Parker, on the other hand, may have just concluded the best season of his career.
San Antonio had a 50-16 record which comes out to a .758 win-loss percentage. That's the second best of the Popovich era and better than any of the four teams from 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 that went on to win NBA titles. The 2005-2006 team went 63-19 ( .768 ), but that team lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.
It could end up as the best team Gregg Popovich has ever had the privilege of coaching. The Spurs are 6-0 in the playoffs. Not only has San Antonio not lost, but if the first and second games against the Clippers are any indication of the immediate future, then it might not be wise to expect close games.
The Spurs are a well-oiled machine not only by the standards of the teams they're matched up against, but also when matched up against the great Spurs teams of the past.
Gregg Popovich's best team ever? It's a little too soon to make that claim. Check back after 10 more wins. Then the answer might be pretty obvious.