San Antonio Spurs' Foolproof Playbook for Playoff Dominance
His core has fluctuated minimally during that time, with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan accompanying him throughout his tenure, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili spending the entirety of their veteran careers in the Alamo City as well.
Now a year older, the Spurs are on a mission to add one more banner to the AT&T Center's rafters before the dynasty officially crumbles.
Though criticized for their poor regular season ending, the Spurs soon returned to their characteristic winning ways, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoff's opening round with incredible efficiency and ease.
Though often labeled as a solely a dominant regular season team, the Spurs have enjoyed plenty of postseason success recently, and while they have fallen short of a championship since their 2007 victory, their feats as of the late should not be overlooked.
Despite their Western Conference Finals collapse last year, making it that far is an achievement that only four teams can boast, and their journey there is certainly worth celebrating. With two sweeps in two rounds, the 2012 playoffs were anything but a failure.
So now, as the Spurs embark on another title run, we pinpoint what exactly makes them so dominant and how their opening-round success over L.A. will carry over into the remainder of the postseason.
Ride the Hot Hand
The Spurs roster is one of the most star-studded in the league, featuring two All-Stars, a starting-worthy sixth man and a surplus of above-average role players. Even toward the bottom of their bench, the squad features talented players capable of contributing nightly.
Because of their depth and overload of quality players, the team can usually count on at least one person to shine every night.
Parker and Duncan are undoubtedly the teams' leading men and will—for the most part—be the primary contributors throughout the playoffs. That said, it would be foolish to believe that neither is capable of a bad game.
Many teams rise and fall at the pace of their stars, but the Spurs have shown the ability to shine even during an off game from Parker or Duncan.
Age has affected the 35-year-old Ginobili, more so than Duncan. His decline over the past few years has been evident, and one cannot expect him to carry the team consistently anymore.
Though he isn't an everyday superstar, however, Ginobili has proved that he is still fully competent of a sporadic "nostalgia" performance. When he's on, Pop recognizes it and allows him to take over.
Along with the Spurs' veteran triumvirate, younger contributors like Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter have shown an ability to stand out on occasion. Like Ginobili, the Spurs incorporate these two more often during such games, and the team as a whole benefits.
Not having to rely on a specific player to carry the load allows the team to win even when its star struggles. Popovich's ability to make changes mid-game allows for the team's focal point to change nightly based on whoever is feeling it at the moment.
Work as a Team and Play to Your Strengths
The Spurs' incredible depth allows for different players to shine individually each night, but it also ensures that no single player ever feels the need to take over.
While certain runs may be dominated by a specific player, San Antonio's collective effort is what usually translates into playoff success.
Defenses cannot simply double-team a single player against the Spurs. While it may work against other playoff teams, the Spurs have demonstrated unprecedented passing ability and rarely settle for low-percentage shots.
They play to their strengths, which revolve around Duncan in the post, Parker's one-on-ones and an overall team effort from beyond the arc.
When Duncan is hot, they run their offense through him, and work hard to isolate him and a defender. When locked in a man-to-man battle, his multi-dimensional offensive prowess makes him a threat from multiple positions.
When left alone with his defender, Duncan often wins the battle. Because of this, help defense is a necessity, though his above-average distributing abilities ensure that he'll find the open man for an open look.
The same holds true for Parker. His skills range from his improving jump shot to his ability to penetrate. Often attracting help defense, Parker—like Duncan—has the ability to hit the open man.
The team's ability to work the ball around the perimeter also allows for their abundance of long-range threats to shine. Open looks are common, and they excel from deep as a result.
Expose Your Opponents' Weaknesses
Aside from playing to your individual strengths, a truly dominant squad knows how to take advantage of their opponents.
Every team has some weakness, with some being more obvious than others. However, with an elite coach in Gregg Popovich, Spurs fans can expect that such weaknesses will always be exposed.
Their well-rounded lineup allows for them to excel from any spot on the floor. Parker will benefit against teams that lack strength at the guard position, while Duncan and Splitter shine when the opposing squad's frontcourt is weak.
The same holds true defensively. Their perimeter defenders are above-average, with Leonard and Danny Green leading the pack. In the post, Duncan has proved to be a legitimate defensive force, even in the latter stages of his career.
If their opponents have strength down low, the Spurs will force jump shots, such as in the Lakers' case, where Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard acted as their primary weapons.
Knowing that they struggled elsewhere, the Spurs simply eliminated Los Angeles' inside game, forcing them to beat them from mid-range and beyond. Doing so significantly decreased the roles of Gasol and Howard, and the Lakers couldn't keep up offensively throughout the series.
The Spurs have garnered a reputation as one of the best teams in recent history, largely because of Popovich. His ability to make in-game changes in order to help his team shine and make the other team struggle is the primary reason for the team's success to date.
Having breezed by the Lakers, the Spurs will match up against the winner of the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets series. Whether or not they'll go all the way is another story, but with Pop in charge, one would be foolish to ever count the Spurs out entirely.
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