Stat: During the San Antonio Spurs nine-game winning streak they’re average defensive efficiency is 98.2, more than three full points better than their season-long number.
Take: Only the “old” and “boring” Spurs could go on a run this lengthy, dominant, and overwhelmingly overlooked. Whether that’s fair considering their loss as a one-seed in the 2011 playoffs is an argument for another time – quickly, it’s not; not at all – but it’s clear digging into the stats that this is a run that deserves the rest of the league’s attention.
For last decade-plus under the tutelage of Greg Popovich and leadership of Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ incredible success has been marked by their prowess on the defensive end. In fact, from 2002-2008 San Antonio ranked in the top four of defensive efficiency every season.
Since then – as Pop’s roster has aged and changed – his team has slowly morphed into just a solid defensive squad. Of course, in typical Popovich and San Antonio fashion, they’ve made up for it by turning into juggernauts on the other end of the floor. Last year, for instance, they rode the league’s second best offense and 11th best defense to the top seed in a loaded Western Conference. SA’s relied on that same formula in 2012, again combining a top two offense with just an above-average (13th) defensive attack.
That’s all changed during this winning streak, though, a fact that should worry their Western counterparts as the playoffs fast approach. San Antonio’s hardly faced a murderer’s row of offenses over this stretch, but that they’ve managed to hold five opponents at or below 90 points is undeniably impressive regardless. So how have the Spurs – a league average defense all season long – played like one of its best the last two weeks? They’ve gone from a below average rebounding team to a great one, and fouled shooters even less than they did before this streak.
If this isn’t just a blip on the radar and San Antonio maintains this defensive pace while remaining their awesome selves on offense, they should be considered every bit as big a threat as Oklahoma City to emerge from a wide open West. And if they can keep this up, an unlikely run to the NBA Finals will be made easier by the ever-increasing chance they catch the Thunder to gain home-court advantage.