San Antonio Spurs' Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses in Playoffs So Far
Thus far, the San Antonio Spurs' 2014 postseason campaign has seen its fair share of highs and lows.
From the onset, it seemed as though they were in for another long, arduous series of battles after it took them seven games to knock off the last-seeded Dallas Mavericks.
Recently, though, the regular season's best team has been executing in a manner that indicates that an NBA Finals return should be expected.
From all areas of the court, they've been excelling, making up one of the most uniquely brilliant displays of basketball that the league has witnessed this year.
That said, there have been a handful of weaknesses along with the many strengths that San Antonio has displayed thus far.
Years ago, San Antonio was an acclaimed defensive juggernaut. Despite limited offensive production, the Spurs would win battles by keeping their opponents in check on the other end.
Those days are long gone.
While San Antonio still can claim a strong defense (we'll touch on that later), its high-scoring and fast-paced offense has been the leading factor behind this postseason surge.
Having entered the second half with at least 60 points in each playoff contest since the Game 7 first-round blowout against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs have been efficient in their scoring while churning out strong numbers to fill the stat sheet.
From the three-point line, the squad has found success throughout the postseason. Its collective percentage from deep sits above 40 percent while individuals like Danny Green (45 percent), Boris Diaw (50 percent) and Marco Belinelli (56 percent) have been essential assets beyond the arc.
Beyond their scoring, the Spurs have maintained their defining distributing prowess and have proved to be unstoppable with unparalleled ball movement that allows for such gaudy scoring totals.
From top to bottom, the team has stepped up to the plate on the offensive end, and—excluding the poor outputs early in the opening round, which were masterfully addressed and corrected—has undoubtedly set the tone, thus resulting in its evident success.
Fortunately, the Spurs haven't had any long-term struggles; otherwise, they wouldn't be sitting on a 3-0 lead against the Portland Trail Blazers. That said, they haven't been completely flawless throughout the playoffs.
Evident against the Mavs, the Spurs found their fair share of defensive issues when it came to guarding Monta Ellis, Devin Harris and other perimeter threats. Dallas penetrated with ease and exploited holes that hindered San Antonio out of the gate.
However, as seen against the Blazers, San Antonio has managed to clean up its act defensively. Similarly, rebounding questions—especially ones regarding the team's inability to keep the opposition off the offensive boards—were frequent at first, although the Spurs have redeemed themselves by going toe-to-toe with Portland in each contest thus far.
Aside from the issues that manifested themselves against Dallas, San Antonio has shown irregular weaknesses during their second series. Their shoddy free-throw shooting in Game 1 was noteworthy, though that was corrected in the subsequent games, with a perfect 25-of-25 performance in the third contest.
Deviating from the ephemeral slumps that the team has endured thus far, individual players haven't been on point from start to finish. Tony Parker's second-half production against the Mavericks was less than impressive, while Marco Belinelli served as a benchwarmer throughout the opening series as well as during a game against the Blazers.
Even key players like Manu Ginobili haven't been perfect, evidenced by his 0-of-6, two-point performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Still, each issue has been short-lived and corrected, thus ensuring that the team isn't plagued by any long-term weaknesses that could eventually lead to its demise. Instead, several small things constitute San Antonio's struggles thus far, and as long as they remain addressed as they arise, the Spurs should continue to roll.
Strength: Post Defense
As it relates, I'd like to take a second to offer my—and that of the Spurs fanbase—sincere thanks to Tiago Splitter, whose defensive contributions warrant endless praise and endless retractions from the countless pundits who labeled Splitter as "overpaid" going into the season.
Splitter, following in the footsteps of his teammate, Tim Duncan, has provided the team with a post backbone that has proved to be invaluable during the first two rounds.
In each round, the opposition's best player has arguably been its power forward. In both cases, Splitter and Duncan have effectively shut these players down.
Dirk Nowitzki had his fair share of strong performances, although most of his success came against defenders other than Splitter and Duncan.
In the subsequent round, Splitter has been tasked with guarding LaMarcus Aldridge, arguably the best player at his position. Despite the odds, the Brazilian big has executed beautifully, holding Portland's leading man to just 2-of-13, a trend that has been on display for the whole series.
There have been holes in the defense elsewhere, no doubt, though Splitter's contributions have been a key component of the Spurs' prosperity.
Weakness: Reliance on Tony Parker
A lot of teams rely on a superstar. That is, after all, what a superstar is for.
Even so, the Spurs' dependence on Tony Parker could be worrisome given his volatile nature that could be seen against the Mavericks.
So far, they have risen and fallen with their floor leader. Parker's occasional slip-ups in the first round ultimately led to a contested seven-game series, while his show-stopping production against the Blazers has been reflected in the Spurs' dominance.
However, this distinct relationship between individual and team success should raise a few eyebrows. If the Spurs hold on to beat Portland, they'll welcome either Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook as Parker's positional matchup—both of whom could create problems for Parker.
Paul, a natural stopper, can change a game on the defensive end with his quick hands and overall strong talent, while Westbrook's physical gifts could hamper the less athletic Parker.
Of course, any weakness here is purely conditional. Parker's play thus far has given us plenty of reasons to trust him going forward.
Still, it would be comforting to see the team shine without him leading the way, simply as a means of reassurance that it could survive even if his superstar play dries up.
Even with a reliance on Parker, the Spurs attack hasn't been one-dimensional by any stretch of the imagination. Beyond the obvious contributions of Duncan and Splitter, San Antonio has found support from its reserve pool.
With Manu Ginobili and Diaw leading the way, the Spurs bench has been dominant in the second round, mercilessly manhandling Portland's shoddy second unit. The San Antonio Express-News' Jabari Young commented on the bench's success on Twitter:
Aside from Game 1, Ginobili has been a force to be reckoned with against the Blazers. Even if his stats don't jump off the page, he has been essential in maintaining a high tempo while making those around him better.
He and Diaw combined for a plus-46 in the team's most recent contest, a clear indication of the strength of the Spurs backups.
Aside from that duo, the Spurs have found strength in the second unit from every angle. Patty Mills, despite struggling out of the gate, has been crucial during moments in both series. Similarly, Belinelli's 19- and 13-point showings in Round 2 were crucial in adding to the squad's blowout victories.
Even Aron Baynes got in on the fun, playing with unexpected confidence in Game 1 against Portland en route to his best postseason stat line ever.
Having a strong attack up front is crucial, but maintaining a balanced secondary can be the difference. In San Antonio's case, the second unit has been more than a lifeline; it has been a consistent source of quality production.