Through eight games in the NBA Playoffs, just about everyone has one question on their minds — how is anybody going to beat the San Antonio Spurs?
That was not the question many thought they would be asking. It is now likely the question that will keep Scott Brooks up at night until Sunday’s opener in the Western Conference Finals. San Antonio is a perfect 8-0 through the first two rounds and looks every bit as good as that record indicates.
The Big Three? They are still there, providing some much needed experience and composure to a team that is actually the youngest since Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich started winning titles a decade ago. This is a group that works well together and is absolutely rolling.
You have Tony Parker getting into the paint with relative ease and dropping floaters over the outstretched hands of helpless defenders. You have Manu Ginobili slipping and slithering his way through defenses the way he always does. And then you have Tim Duncan, looking like an early 2000s Duncan with his passing ability and point guard play from the post.
This is very much the Spurs teams of the past, but also very much a new Spurs team.
This is a San Antonio team that is not the slow-it-down, bogged-down team that it got characterized as during those title runs. Much like it has the last few years, this is a team that gets out on the break and spreads the floor. It rests on a deadly efficient offense to supplement a defense that is not quite how it used to be but is still pretty formidable.
The 21.3 3-point field goal attempts per game were the most in Spurs franchise history. And with guards like Danny Green and Gary Neal and forwards like Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard who are capable of hitting long-range shots and spreading the floor, why not hoist away from long range. The thing is, San Antonio makes so many of them and gets so many good looks because of the work Duncan, Parker and Ginobili can do.
Seeing as this is the Playoffs and we are more prone to hyperbole and overreaction, the question has become how do you beat a team playing as well as the Spurs?
That is a serious question at this point thanks to the way the Spurs have played.
Sweeping your way through the first two rounds of the Playoffs are not a guarantee of success — the last two teams to do it lost in the conference finals — but the Spurs have faced two different, albeit inexperienced, teams to get to this point.
The Jazz featured a big front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, whom the Spurs dispatched easily behind Tony Parker’s brilliant play. The Clippers featured a pick and roll tandem of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with size in DeAndre Jordan and some depth with Mo Williams and Randy Foye coming off the bench. San Antonio dispatched them equally quickly.
What was so impressive was how easily and calmly San Antonio ended Lob City’s postseason run. The Clippers had a 24-point lead in Game Three, but the Spurs calmly and methodically took the lead away and then went on a 24-0 run to take control and secure a third-quarter lead. It was an impressive performance that shows how much poise this team has. San Antonio does not care about these things, but the team has not lost since mid-April and looks ready for all comers.
So what kind of team can beat the Spurs?
The Jazz and Clippers both found limited success when they were able to get out on the run and try to get fast break points. The best way to beat a defense is to beat it down the floor. Of course, that is not quite sustainable. In the Playoffs, you have to be able to execute your half-court offense and find points when the defense will not let you. The Jazz and Clippers could not do that. With sparkplug Chris Paul slowed by injuries, the Clippers were more reliant on their half-court offense than ever, and that was not their strong suit.
The two favorites for the championship — Oklahoma City and Miami — are both similar teams in that they have top-heavy rosters that are most successful when they get out on the break. Miami has struggled some when the game slows down and the team is unable to get transition baskets. Of course, having LeBron James and Dwyane Wade helps in that department.
The Thunder had much of the same problem in the regular season. Oklahoma City is undoubtedly better when it can get its athletes up the floor in a hurry, but the offense tends to bog down in the half court. With a veteran team like the Spurs, will the Thunder be able to get points when they absolutely have to. Probably better than the Clippers did.
The ghosts and memories of the Spurs’ first round exit are probably out of mind at this point, but last year’s Grizzlies may provide the formula. That was a team that could get the ball into the post with some strong post players and had long, athletic wings on the perimeter. They were sound defensively and offensively and had athletes that could bother the Spurs. Having Manu Ginobili fighting an injury all series does not hurt either.
Teams like the Thunder or the Pacers have these type of players — long, athletic wings and bedrocks in the post. Those two teams figure to match up best.
Of course, when you get this deep in the playoffs, every team is good. The Spurs are not just going to roll over. They will adjust and find a way to score points.
San Antonio is not likely to make it 12-0 against the Thunder, but beating them is going to be a very tall task.