San Antonio was the No. 1 seed during the regular season, going 50-16. They won their last 10 games in the regular season, and have since swept the Jazz and Clippers in the first two rounds. Now, their winning streak is at 18 straight games. That is the fifth longest winning streak of all time.
They do not possess an overpowering superstar in the James/Durant mold. What they do possess, which makes them even more deadly than if they had a superstar, is a grasp of the fundamentals of the game that we have not seen since the Lakers and Celtics teams of the '80s.
The level of chemistry and understanding that the Spurs share is simply a joy to watch. Tony Parker has been a revelation this year, evolving into an assassin who can take over games whenever necessary or set up his teammates.
Tim Duncan has rolled back the years, with some vintage dominance against an impressive Clipper frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Manu Ginobili may have been injured most of the season, but he has returned as strong as ever, doing all the little things that Manu Ginobili does. He attacks the basket with abandon, spreads the floor, draws charges and can run point if needed. He's simply the quintessential swingman.
What really makes the Spurs special, however, is not their Big Three, but the level of support they have. In the playoffs, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner are all shooting above 40 percent from the three-point line. Read that sentence again. Six of the Spurs’ players have been assassins from the beyond the arc, and these are not their three best players.
This shooting is brilliant, but it helps the Spurs in so many other ways. By keeping up this high accuracy, the Spurs are forcing their opponents to guard the perimeter closely, which leaves the lane open for Parker and Ginobili to penetrate.
Let me simplify how good San Antonio is with a few numbers.
The Spurs have attempted 627 field goals in the playoffs. Of those shots, 261 have been fewer than six feet from the basket. Another 168 have been three-point shots, 42.3 percent of which have gone in. That means 68 percent of the shots attempted have been either right next to the basket or threes.
If you ask any NBA coach, I guarantee he will say these two shots are the most efficient in basketball.
It’s simple math.
The most efficient shot is the one that has the best chance of going in. The one with the best chance of going in is the closest shot. Corner threes are further out, but they are the closest three-point shots, and the return you get in terms of points (three versus two) is enough to counteract the increased length of the shot.
Now, unfortunately, the databases I have access to do not include a feature that can factor in position on the court along with distance. However, if you watch the Spurs, you will notice that a majority of their three-point shots coming from the corner. I don’t want to shoot off a best-guess percentage because this article is not about guess work.
From this analysis of where the shots are coming from, it's easy to gather that Gregg Popovich is a genius.
When you bring basketball down right to its basics and make sure your team does what is necessary in order to get a W (in this case, taking the best shots in basketball), you’re going to win a ton of games.
The Spurs are simple and efficient, and you have no chance of stopping them. Like NBA commercial says, the quiet guys are the ones you should fear the most, and I agree with that sentiment.
I expect the Spurs to drop one game in the conference finals against the Thunder and one more in the finals against Miami. That’s a 16-2 record, the second best in postseason history, trailing only the 2001 Lakers.
It’s ironic because the Lakers team and this Spurs team cannot be more different. One took absolute advantage of the star system and used the two best players in the league to destroy everyone else. The Spurs function as a team in the truest sense. They do not have the most overwhelming names, but they are clicking on a level that we have not witnessed since the 1986 Boston Celtics and 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.
One day, we will be telling our children about how lucky we were to see the 2012 San Antonio Spurs play.