Sometimes cliché statements can become diluted to some degree, but as I’ve said every year since becoming an avid basketball fan, I cannot wait for the playoffs to begin. The defending champion Spurs are looking to reify Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne” album title this year, but the path to immortality will be a tad bit more difficult this time around.
With a 21-4 record over the last six weeks of the season, including 19 of those wins coming by double-digits, the Spurs have caught fire at the right time. This team is ripe with talent and depth. The mixture of veteran leadership and young athleticism spearheaded by the coaching acumen of Gregg Popovich is what makes them legitimate in that Wild Wild West.
After falling to the Pelicans, 108-103, in the final game of the regular season, the Spurs dropped from the No. 2 seed to the No. 6 seed. The Rockets and Grizzlies won their respective games, which allowed them to leap past San Antonio in the standings.
New Orleans stormed out to a 34-19 lead in the first quarter and held off the Spurs’ predictable rally. In the biggest game of his young career, Anthony Davis tallied 31 points and 13 rebounds to put a ribbon on his breakout season and catapult his team into the postseason for the first time since the post-Chris Paul era.
This significant loss for the Spurs made their route to the crown more rigorous, as they’re now looking to become just the second team in NBA history to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as a sixth seed or lower. The only team to do it? The Houston Rockets back in the 1994-95 season accomplished this feat in the second year of a back-to-back title run. If the Spurs were to follow in their footsteps, it would be the first time in their franchise’s history that they had championship parades in consecutive years.
The Spurs are accustomed to being doubted and underappreciated. They’re no strangers to being labeled old, boring and slow. And after an inauspicious start to the season, the naysayers finally had the fuel they were in desperate need of that would validate their anti-Spurs argument. San Antonio went on to lose seven of nine games toward the end of December, and some were even questioning whether they were going to make the playoffs. Blasphemy, I know.
A rough stretch for Tony Parker after he battled injuries seemed to be the catalyst of the team’s woes. Kawhi Leonard was sidelined for 18 games this year, which also inhibited the Spurs. Both he and Parker returned to form, and just like that, everything began to click.
After losing their fourth straight game on Feb. 25, the Spurs were 34-23 and the No. 7 seed in the West. Since then, they went on an absolute tear and clinched a 16th straight season of winning 50-plus games. An 11-game winning streak prior to the last game of the season with the Pelicans had them sitting as the second seed before falling to No. 6, and even with that fall, plenty of people still see them as the team to beat in the West.
Are the San Antonio Spurs poised for a repeat? Will this historic run for the first-class organization sporting white and black have to go through LeBron James again? The Cavs have certainly emerged as the favorite in the Eastern Conference, so we might be in for another legendary matchup. Vegas lists the Spurs as having the third-best odds to win it all behind the Warriors and Cavaliers.
The motivation emanating from San Antonio is different this time. Tim Duncan has a chance to pass Kobe Bryant for the active leader in championship rings, which would tie him with Michael Jordan with six. Gregg Popovich doesn’t need any other accomplishments to validate his greatness, but surely winning another one would elevate him even further.
If they’re old and boring, what warrants such high praise and adulation this season? Well, somehow they’ve managed to ascend to excellence in a plethora of offensive categories. The Spurs’ 24.4 assists per game ranked fifth in the league this year. Their ball movement has always propelled them to offensive success, and being tied for fifth in three-point shooting and third in field goal percentage reflect that.
Defense was also critical for them as Leonard led the league with 2.3 steals per contest. His defensive prowess might have permeated the entire team, because we saw the Spurs assert themselves in this area as well. They finished eighth in blocks (5.4) and third in defensive rating (99.6), and their net rating of 6.6 was third in the NBA, per NBA.com.
After a maelstrom of injuries plagued them for most of the year, it looks as though the team has gotten its groove and swagger back. It took an immaculate stretch for the defending champs to garner this attention that has everyone salivating over a potential Warriors-Spurs Western Conference Finals. We’re in for an exciting postseason, and I can’t wait for it to commence. San Antonio may not have finished with the best record and the last loss may have prevented them from winning the Southwest Division title for a fifth consecutive year, but in the spur of THIS moment, this team isn’t ready to relinquish their trophy.