How to Beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Playoffs

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How to Beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Playoffs
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How does one beat the seemingly unbeatable, especially when that team is the San Antonio Spurs?

The above question has hounded opposing coaches and teams for over a decade, with the Memphis Grizzlies being the latest squad looking to dismantle the league's most consistent playoff team.

The Spurs have been a symbol of success since Tim Duncan's arrival in 1997, and now, over 10 years later, they are looking to once again capture a coveted championship.

Having already plowed their way through the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs are now in a prime position to defeat the Grizzlies en route to an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Despite their winning ways, no victory is guaranteed until the final buzzer sounds. Whether it's at the hands of Memphis, the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat, the possibility exists that the Spurs can be beaten.

At any level of organized basketball, coaches will stress the importance of running a successful fast break. Capitalizing off of turnovers is a key to garnering easy buckets. This is true even in the NBA.

The Spurs began Game 3 with eight turnovers in the first quarter, many of which Memphis took advantage of. By extension, the Grizzlies were able to build a hearty lead, though it was later squandered.

Throughout the season, the Spurs proved to be a naturally proficient fast-break team. However, one of their biggest weaknesses lies with their struggle to defend well in transition. Memphis first exploited that in 2011 and the Oklahoma City Thunder did so as well during last year's Western Conference Finals. 

Even in this year's playoff run, the Spurs demonstrated an inability to successfully contain Golden State on the fast break. Though it wasn't the only one, the Spurs' trouble in transition was a primary reason as to why the series took them six games to win.

With no team having ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit, a Memphis comeback is highly unlikely. However, both the Pacers and the Heat have shown an ability to run the fast break successfully, and doing so in the Finals would be a key.

With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Miami has the speed and finishing ability to cripple San Antonio. The Pacers also have a core capable of dominating the game's pace, headlined by the rising Paul George.

Any team opposing the Spurs should look to fast break whenever possible. While it certainly doesn't guarantee a win, it would hinder San Antonio tremendously, as it has multiple times in the past.

However, basketball is played on both ends of the court. In order to successfully defeat the Spurs, one would have to stop them offensively in addition to taking advantage on the defensive end.

In the half-court offense, the Spurs' primary option is the pick-and-roll. The play generally starts with either Tim Duncan or another Spurs' big playing around the high post. From there, Tony Parker runs his defender off of the screen and looks to penetrate to the basket. He either finishes with a patented floater or he draws a defender and kicks the ball out to one of the team's top shooters.

However, as highlighted by Grantland's Zach Lowe, the defense can prevent Parker from driving by having Duncan's defender drop down into the paint.

Doing so gives Parker—or any Spurs guard, for that matter—a wide-open jump shot. However, it successfully prevents the guard from prancing towards the basket in an uncontested manner.

The above method of defense was utilized by the Warriors in the second round. While it does result in open mid-range jump shots, it prevents higher percentage shots from occurring. 

In addition to removing a portion of Parker's game, opposing defenses can increase their chances of winning by getting Tim Duncan in foul trouble.

While it may seem obvious, Duncan's effect is greater than you would think. With him on the court, the Spurs finished the season with a plus/minus of 10.6. Without Duncan, their plus/minus was a mere 1.7. 

When Duncan was forced to sit in Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals due to foul trouble, Memphis subsequently went on a run, erasing a large deficit and forcing the game into overtime. 

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The Spurs should be able to beat the Grizzlies, but if Miami or Indiana plays them the right way, a Finals win is anything but guaranteed for San Antonio.

Without their veteran power forward, the Spurs are forced to rely on Tiago Splitter to anchor the defense, something that rarely turns out well.

While forcing the opposition's star out of the game is always smart, getting Tim Duncan in foul trouble would give opponents a drastically greater chance to succeed.

Of course, dismantling a Gregg Popovich-run team is easier said than done, and sometimes, you simply cannot beat the unbeatable. Your best bet may be to cross your fingers and hope that the Spurs have an off night.

But if you do everything right on both ends of the floor, you never know what could happen.

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