May 19, 2013, 7:11 PM EDT
When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and in that time, the Spurs had been one of the NBA’s slowest teams, ranking between 20th and 28th in pace each season. San Antonio had also never finished with a higher-ranked offense than defense.
But that changed in 2010-11. The Spurs ranked 14th in pace, 2nd in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Mannix:
The changes that Popovich emphasized in training camp (cross-court passing, more look-aheads, quicker shots) have been fully embraced. “They’re pushing the ball better than any team in the league,” says a Western Conference scout. “They’re unselfish, and the ball moves fluidly. It’s like they were built to play like this.”
Except the Spurs weren’t really built to play like that.
Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, George Hill and Matt Bonner all played major roles on a Spurs team that had ranked 20th in pace the year before, and San Antonio simply asked that same group to play faster. Because of their willingness to adjust, those four handled an increased tempo fine for a while, but they weren’t equipped to master it in the long run.
In the first round of the 2011 playoffs, Popovich’s strategy finally crumbled, as the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the Spurs in six games.
But in the wake of that loss, San Antonio didn’t relent in its commitment to becoming a faster team.
The Spurs showed their up-tempo bona fides today during a 105-83 win over the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Though the pace of the game wasn’t particular fast, San Antonio excelled by pushing the tempo at opportune moments and getting back defensively after a transition attack – doing so in ways the 2011 team wasn’t capable of.
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are still the backbone of the franchise, but the surrounding pieces have made the difference.
In 2011, the Spurs had already signed the relatively athletic Tiago Splitter three years after drafting him and plucked Danny Green, an active defender, from the D-League. But Green and Splitter weren’t prepared to contribute in the playoffs that year.
In classic San Antonio fashion, the organization developed those two into starters. Green has already played more against the Grizzlies in the conference finals than he did in the first round in 2011, and Splitter is on pace to pass his 2011 mark in Game 3. Green scored 16 points on 3-of-6 3-point shooting, and Splitter played strong defense on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside.
But the Spurs’ most meaningful change since 2011 has been Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs traded for Leonard on draft night 2011, and the athletic forward quickly became a starter in a league that was increasingly featuring elite athletes. Leonard, who scored 18 points today, can quickly leak out for an easy layup, but he also defends in the open court, too.
That’s where San Antonio’s continued adaptation has really made a difference. The Spurs continue to get faster – 14th to 8th to 6th in pace the last three seasons – but after back-to-back years of ranking 11th in defense, they ranked third this season. San Antonio temporarily compromised its defense values in the name of pace, but the tradeoff is no longer necessary with this roster.
Popovich and the Spurs have continued to learn from the lesson Memphis handed them two years ago, and more than ever, they look like a team with that has earned a graduate degree from the School of Fastbreak.
“We’re trying to have pace,” Popovich said during his second-half sideline interview when asked about the key to his team’s success today.
Not long before, the Grizzlies were trying to have pause.
Fewer than two minutes into the game, Lionel Hollins called timeout as San Antonio raced to a 7-2 lead. These aren’t the same Spurs as the ones Hollins, Randolph, Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen beat in 2011.
Back then, San Antonio was chasing a new identity. The Spurs have found it and mastered it, and now the Grizzlies are doing all the chasing. So far, they can’t keep up.
Sep 23, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT
Wyc Grousbeck also says he wants Boston to keep point guard long term
Sep 22, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Before every game he is throwing the panda head into the crowd.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:33 PM EDT
Charlotte also adds Justin Cobbs, who went undrafted out of Cal
Sep 22, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Mohammed gives Chicago 14 players
Sep 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Ellington, who played for Scott with Cavaliers, received partially guaranteed contract
Sep 22, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
It’s not going to change anytime soon, either.
Sep 22, 2014, 6:44 PM EDT
David Stockton, an undrafted free agent out of Gonzaga, also worked out for Thunder
Sep 22, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
He didn’t take anything seriously, so he was vintage Howard.
Sep 22, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
The Rockets’ defensive system is not the problem with James Harden.
Sep 22, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT
Jones previously played for the Grizzlies, Kings, Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Hawks
Sep 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Former Pistons No. 2 draft pick putting some distance between himself and basketball
Sep 22, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
Great job, Danny. Great job.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Jones – who played for the 76ers, Rockets, Bulls (during Michael Jordan’s rookie season), Trail Blazers and Spurs – helped shape Tim Duncan’s career
Sep 22, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
Chandler: ‘We are going to be a great defensive team’
Sep 22, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT
There were multiple NBA players arrested on domestic abuse charges last year. The spotlight on those cases will be different now.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
This is the Marcus Williams who played at Arizona, not Connecticut
Sep 22, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
James Blair can watch LeBron in person in Cleveland again
Sep 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
“The first thing I ever Googled about the man, the first thing that popped up was “racist.” So I was aware. I hate to say this, and it might sound ignorant, but I wasn’t surprised that all this came up.”—Blake Griffin on Donald Sterling
Sep 22, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
A healthy D Rose could have the Bulls contending for a title.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EDT
Toddler imitates Allen Iverson’s practice rant
- Celtics owner: Rajon Rondo ‘super stubborn,’ harder than average to coach 0
- Bruce Bowen says blame for James Harden’s defense falls on McHale, Rockets 12
- NBA to review domestic violence policies in wake of NFL’s ugliness. It shouldn’t have taken that. 13
- Cavaliers lift ban on fan who ran onto court with LeBron James shirt 15
- Blake Griffin said he knew Donald Sterling was racist, wasn’t really surprised by tape 13
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Chicago Bulls 11
- Tony Parker hits a back over-the-head halfcourt shot (VIDEO) 8
- Timberwolves ‘not necessarily in a rush’ to agree to contract extension with Ricky Rubio 18