Just when you thought the San Antonio Spurs faded into the sunset, the team from the River City suddenly seems a safe bet to win the franchise’s fifth championship.
The Spurs start the Western Conference finals today against upstart Oklahoma City in San Antonio, halfway to finishing a sterling and surprising run, depending on whom you ask.
Despite being a model of consistency with the franchise’s 13th straight 50-win season, the Spurs somehow flew under the radar while teams like the Heat, Bulls, Lakers, Knicks and others soaked up the headlines.
All the while, the Spurs worried more about fitting together the right pieces than stats. With a core mix featuring mainstays Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs whipped together their latest impressive championship-caliber batch after adding players like Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson.
The Spurs, winners of their last 18 games, possess all the ingredients for another title:
Speed. Sparked by the dynamic Parker at point guard, the Spurs play as comfortable on the break as in half court.
Depth. During the regular season, 10 players who appeared in at least half the games averaged 6.6 points or better.
Shooting. During the first two rounds, the Spurs shot 49.1 percent and averaged 24.1 assists. During the regular season, the Spurs ranked first in field goal percentage (.478) and 3-point percentage (39.3), and second in the league in scoring (103.7).
Defense: The Spurs held opponents to 88.8 points and 42.3 percent shooting in the first two rounds, bringing back to mind the notion that defenses win championships.
Past, Present And Future
Oklahoma City entered the season as favorites to represent the West in The Finals. Somebody forgot to tell the Spurs. For the second straight year, San Antonio finished with the best record in the Western Conference, only this time avoiding a first-round sweep.
Even going against a dangerous team in Oklahoma City, the advantages tilt San Antonio’s way.
*At point guard, Parker presents an answer with his quickness at a spot Oklahoma City usually claims the edge at with fellow All-NBA second-team guard Russell Westbrook. After scoring four points in a loss to OKC in the first meeting, Parker poured in 42 points in a rematch claimed by the Spurs, and 25 in a later victory over the Thunder.
*At shooting guard, Ginobili gives the Spurs something to match Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.
*At small forward, OKC’s Kevin Durant dominates his position along with fellow All-NBA first-teamer LeBron James. But even there, San Antonio sports the likes of athletic players such as Jackson and Kawhi Leonard to make it interesting.
*At power forward, no player in the NBA matches the history of Duncan, a four-time champion still effective with averages of 17 points and nine rebounds in the playoffs — not even OKC’s Serge Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots
*At center, San Antonio’s depth makes them competitive against most frontlines, with three-point specialist Matt Bonner, bangers like DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, and the versatile Diaw.
*In the intangibles department, the Spurs stack up well again, led by arguably the league’s top coach in Greg Popovich. Under Popovich’s direction, the Spurs stress team play, with only Parker playing more than 30 minutes on average during the regular season.
In the post-Michael Jordan era in Chicago, which ended in 1998 after a run of six championships in eight seasons, the Spurs have been arguably the NBA’s most consistent franchise. The Lakers’ five titles over the last 15 seasons lead the league, with San Antonio right on their heels with four.
In the NBA, the more things change the more they stay the same. Since the 1980s, only the Lakers with 10 crowns and the three Texas teams (San Antonio with four from 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007; Houston with two in 1994 and 1995; and Dallas with one in 2011) have won titles.
The Rockets missed this year’s playoffs. The Mavericks lasted all of four games after getting swept by Oklahoma City. And the Lakers recently went fishing after a five-game loss to Oklahoma City.
Spurred by history and a championship pedigree, expect the trend to continue, and for the team from the Alamo City to be the last one standing.