San Antonio Spurs: Who Is the Biggest Threat to the Spurs' Title Chase?
The San Antonio Spurs don’t just look like the best team in basketball—at this particular moment, they indisputably are. Flaws and all, San Antonio just brings too much depth and precision for most opponents to counter, making them the easy 2012 NBA Finals favorites in light of Chris Bosh’s unfortunate absence in Miami.
The Spurs have completely dismantled the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers before our very eyes, leaving no doubt in the verdict of either series. No postseason plot was more predictable. San Antonio showed too much in the regular season to worry about any kind of premature elimination, and the team’s overall profile suggested that each of the Spurs’ first two rounds would be resolved quickly and clinically.
San Antonio just doesn’t mess around. And though they remain the most likely champions at the end of this year's postseason, a few particular opponents promise to provide more of a challenge than others.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are practically assured to be facing the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, and considering the injuries that have thus far shaped the East’s playoff picture, may actually come to provide the greatest obstacle in San Antonio’s title run.
Execution is defined a bit differently in Oklahoma City; the Thunder aren’t quite as meticulous in their ball movement or general offensive structure, but the sheer gravity of their trio of playmakers puts an immense amount of pressure on opposing defenses.
Plus, Coach Popovich won’t be able to move Tony Parker off the ball defensively in order to save him from foul trouble, exploitation and exhaustion. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili will have their hands full in trying to defend both Kevin Durant and James Harden, likely leaving Parker to track Russell Westbrook around screens and through spins.
Parker is a passable defender, but he’s had the luxury thus far of serving a critical offensive function while being shielded elsewhere. The Thunder will undoubtedly look to challenge him at every turn, and with a solid post defender, an elite off-post shot blocker, a proper wing stopper and length for days, the Thunder may be better equipped to counter the Spurs than any other team still in the playoff picture.
2. Miami Heat
The Heat and Thunder are very different teams, but both have the capacity to test the Spurs’ pick-and-roll defense to its fullest while initiating pressure defenses that could either stall or aid San Antonio’s pass-heavy offense.
It can be difficult to predict just how much trouble a gambling defense might cause against such a well-oiled machine, and though the Spurs have executed well enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think it’s altogether outside the realm of possibility that the Heat could potentially wall off the paint and give the Spurs problems.
Then again, considering Miami’s three-point allowances, maybe the Heat—especially without Bosh—wouldn’t have much of a chance at all. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hold the potential to dominate any series they participate in, but even their two-way brilliance likely won’t be enough to knock off the Spurs.
San Antonio is flexible enough to go either big or small to situationally attack Miami’s lineups, and the Spurs’ luxurious depth could be used to tremendous advantage against a rotation as short as the Heat's.
3. Indiana Pacers
At first glance, Indy looks like a good match for San Antonio. They have the defensive principles, interior anchor and rangy perimeter defenders necessary to possibly give the Spurs trouble.
But after seeing how the Pacers have played the Miami Heat—and the wide-open looks that Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers have missed in the series—I’m not so sure that the Spurs’ ball movement (and subsequent perimeter shooting) wouldn’t properly pick them apart.
This series would have some tremendously fun individual matchups, but San Antonio is more well versed in finding and attacking the defensive weaknesses in the Pacers rotation (Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, etc.) than any of Indiana’s opponents have been thus far.
There’s no question that the Pacers starters are an incredibly formidable bunch, but the Spurs have virtually no unit-to-unit drop-off and benefit from a system that puts pressure on the entirety of an opponent’s defense. There’s nowhere to hide against San Antonio, and the potential matchups of Barbosa and Amundson against Ginobili and Tiago Splitter (with both having a knack for well-timed cuts) doesn’t bode well for the Pacers.
4. Boston Celtics
The Celtics’ incredible defense would allow them to have a place in this conversation, but their offense isn’t in any way suited to match the Spurs, nor to attack San Antonio at points of defensive weakness.
Boston can be considered as a formality, but I’m not necessarily sold on their defense’s ability to equalize a potential series with San Antonio; the road to the Finals would seemingly take too much out of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for the Celtics to maintain offensive buoyancy.
Though Boston’s defense would undoubtedly muck up some of San Antonio’s beautiful orchestrations, the Celtics lack the firepower to really put the outcome of a potential series into question.
The Sixers have done well, exceeded expectations and could very well make it to the Eastern Conference finals. But let’s not kid ourselves, eh? San Antonio may not have an elite defense these days, but they’re well suited to counter any opponent lacking so decisively in shot creation.
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