The San Antonio Spurs have won nine straight and have moved into fifth place overall in the Western Conference. Why? It’s pretty simple. Defense. And head coach Gregg Popovich isn’t complaining. If his Spurs continue playing as they are, they will be extremely difficult to beat in the NBA’s postseason.
Roughly a month ago, the Spurs looked nothing like the defensive juggernaut they have been for the better part of their 22-year stretch of consecutive postseason appearances. In fact, the 2018-19 version of the Spurs is the worst defensive team Popovich has had in his 23 years with San Antonio. Still, these Spurs have proven that they might not be all that bad.
The Annual Rodeo Trip Each year, the AT&T Center plays host to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. With the home of the Spurs occupied for a length of time, the city’s basketball team normally embarks on a three-week road trip. This year’s trip spanned 22 days with the All-Star break falling almost right in the middle.
This season’s Rodeo Trip was a complete disaster for Popovich and the Spurs. San Antonio went 1-7 and gave up 122.1 points per 100 possessions the absolute worst in the NBA during that stretch of the calendar. The defensive performance of the Spurs was uncharacteristic of a Popovich-coached team. The Spurs had not ranked outside of the top 5 in defensive efficiency since 2011-12.
The Turnaround Since losing to the Nets on Feb. 25 (101-85), San Antonio has looked more like … well … the Spurs. They are second in the NBA in defensive efficiency allowing just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. In their nine-game winning streak, San Antonio has allowed just 101.3 points per game. To put that into perspective, the NBA leader is Indiana which gives up 103.9 per game.
Just Monday night, the Spurs shut down the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. San Antonio held Klay Thompson and Steph Curry to a combined 4-for-22 first-half shooting in a win over the Warriors. It was the worst combined field goal percentage for the Golden State pair in their careers. It’s that kind of performance that can take the Spurs deep into the postseason.
Continued Success Every time the Spurs have won the NBA title (five times total), they have finished in the top three in defensive rating and the top 11 in offensive rating. Last season with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard playing in just nine games, the Spurs were third in defensive rating.
The Spurs aren’t quite there yet, but their continued improvement will take them deep into the playoffs. San Antonio is the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both defensive rating and offensive rating for the 20-year period beginning in 1998-99.
Keys to Resurgence It’s really nothing special, but the play of point guard Derrick White and 7-footer Jakob Poeltl have bolstered the Spurs defense. White is a 24-year-old first-time starter at point guard. His value was evident when he missed six of the eight Rodeo Trip games. Since his return, San Antonio is 8-3.
Poetl is another interesting enigma. Since the loss to Brooklyn, Poetl is averaging 2.1 blocks per game. He had five blocks against the Warriors on Monday joining Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Antoine Carr as the only Spurs to block five or more shots in back-to-back games.
A continued effort on the defensive end will put the Spurs in a good spot come playoff time. Currently, San Antonio is 42-29 and just 1.5 games behind fourth-place Oklahoma City.