Going into the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the aging San Antonio Spurs have locked up home-court advantage through the playoffs, won 19 games in a row post-All-Star break and boast the best record in the NBA.
So how can a team whose "Big Three" are all in their 30s have such success in a league full of young, freak athletes?
Answer: great offensive movement, good outside shooting and head coach Gregg Popovich's rest method.
The Spurs have played 81 games so far this season. That's a lot of wear and tear on these aging players. But they've lost just 19 of those 81 games. Pretty impressive.
Their 19-game win streak, which was snapped by the Oklahoma City Thunder, came at the tail-end of those 81 games. Equally impressive. With their average age hovering near 30, the Spurs look better than ever.
In every post-game press conference, every player and coach seems to say the same thing about the Spurs: They're just always good.
Stephen Curry also commented on the Spurs' play after the Warriors' 21-point loss at the summit of their 19-game streak: "Just the way they move the ball. It seems like they're always on the attack. They force you to make decisions on both ends of the floor."
But how can the old and "boring" Spurs always be on the attack, especially against a young team like the Warriors?
Well, for one the Spurs move the ball better than just about any team in the league. They are fifth in the league for offensive efficiency and lead the league in assists with 24.6 a game. Check out the highlights from their win against the Warriors below. Almost every Spurs play in this video is assisted:
The Spurs' three-point percentage hasn't hurt either. Popovich's team is shooting nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. That number is their team three-point percentage. It's not just Matt Bonner spotting up from behind the arc, it's pretty much the entire team—which include's All-Star weekend's three-point champion, Marco Belinelli.
The Spurs are playing great. That's obvious. Their ability to move well on offense and sink three-pointers has a lot to do with the amount of rest they all get, but it's not the only reason.
Head coach Gregg Popovich is known for his dry humor, sarcastic and blunt sideline interviews—and his resting method. We're not just talking winning-by-30 rest time, although that seems to be happening quite often for the Spurs. We're talking major rest time, sometimes even entire games.
Anyone remember when Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back to San Antonio before facing LeBron James and the Miami Heat two seasons ago? Coach Pop and the Spurs were penalized by the NBA with a $250,000 fine.
Popovich explained that decision, per the Associated Press (h/t Sporting News):
Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing. In our case, this month we've had 11 away games, after tonight. We've had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we're ending it with four (games) in five nights here. I think it'd be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history.
This pretty much explains most of his decisions to rest his players.
He's got old guys. Most of his top players are "old," as far as NBA standards go. Duncan is 37. Tony Parker is 31. Manu Ginobili is 36.
The average age of NBA players: 26.5.
They have a few youngsters like 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph, as well as 25-year-old Patty Mills. But for the most part, the Spurs are getting up there in age—and in wins.
Want proof the resting method works?
Tim Duncan has more 50-win seasons than 26 of the 30 NBA teams. He is in his 17th season in the NBA and is still one of the top power forwards and players in the game. He is averaging 17 points and nearly nine rebounds per game this season as the sixth-oldest player in the league.
Duncan's 17 seasons in the NBA have also been 17 seasons with the Spurs and 17 with Gregg Popovich.
Think of Coach Popovich as a life preserver, saving Duncan and the rest of his players for the more important playoffs.
In the 17 seasons of the Duncan-Popovich era, the Spurs have 16 win streaks of 10 or more games, accounting for 188 wins, which leads the NBA. The second-place team, the Los Angeles Lakers, has 11 win streaks of 10 or more games for a total of 135 wins.
These streaks weren't just at the beginning of Duncan's career. Obviously the most recent streak of 19 games comes in his 17th season. Before that, a 35-year-old Duncan and the 2012 Spurs went on a win streak of 14 games.
Their most recent win streak makes the Spurs one of just eight teams in the history of the NBA to win 19 or more games in a row.
It's no coincidence.
Tim Duncan knows he's heading toward the end of his career, and this team could be the team to send him out on top. In his post-game interview after the Spurs win over the Dallas Mavericks seen below, Duncan talks about this year's team:
Thanks to the Popovich rest method, the Spurs still have a shot this year.
The Spurs have a great offense, great shooting and a great coaching method that saves their aging legs. If San Antonio can sustain this play for just a little bit longer, they may be able to be, as Duncan says, "just one game better" than last year and send Popovich and Duncan out with a championship.
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