Its the usual suspects left fighting for an NBA title.
Since 1983, only seven different NBA franchises have housed the Larry OBrien
opportunity to add to their already storied collections.
One of those teams has been the pillar of consistency over
the last decade. They follow the same recipe for success every single season.
And somehow, they stay relatively under the radar.
The San Antonio Spurs piss a lot of people off. They dont
have flash. They dont run and jump you out of the building. They dont always
make it look pretty, but they dont seem to lose, and guess what? They dont
Year after year, the Spurs are in the hunt. It started with
the 1997 #1 Draft Pick that brought Tim Duncan to the Alamo Dome and continues
with the top-tier international talent theyve attracted to the River Walk.
Their success begins with their coach and ends with the last
player on the bench. Everyone contributes, everyone knows their role. Gregg Popovich
makes sure of that. He also makes sure that every player on the team understands
that defense wins championships.
That premise was clearly recognized in their first title run
in 1999. En route to a 15-2 playoff record, the Spurs allowed their opponent to
eclipse 90 points just twice in 17 playoff games.
They brought in experienced players to compliment the Twin
Towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, while keeping veteran core players
such as Sean Elliot and Avery Johnson. They had fundamental post men, clutch
shooters in Elliot and Steve Kerr, championship experience in the form of Mario
Elie, and a hustle player in Malik Rose.
When Popovich saw how magical the makeup of that fundamental
and defensive-minded team was, he knew to duplicate his strategy to achieve the
After a mini dry spell during the Shaq and Kobe era, the Spurs climbed back to the
mountain top in 2003. They won every series in six games by locking opponents
down on the defensive end of the floor, allowing 100 or more points just four
times in 24 games, and holding the New Jersey Nets under 90 points in every
game of the Finals.
The faces of that team had changed, but the roles were the
same. Tony Parker stepped in as the heady floor general and Bruce Bowen became
the defensive stopper. Stephen Jackson was their hustle player, Manu Ginobili
was Mr. Clutch, and Tim Duncan was his usual consistent self.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Hall Of Fame studded
Lakers in the 2004 NBA Playoffs, the Spurs bounced back to retain the title in
2005 and 2007. Had anything changed? Not on Popovichs watch. Defense was again
the emphasis in both those title runs.
While many teams revamp their rosters in the summer by
looking to the fountain of youth, Popovich and company go hunting for
experience. In 99, they welcomed Steve Kerr and his three rings. In 03, they
picked up Big Shot Bob whose championship experience was vital to their third
and fourth rings.
Brent Barry brought invaluable basketball knowledge in 04,
Jacque Vaughn has brought 10 minutes per game of in-your-face defensive effort
since 06, and Michael Finley was happy to sign in 05 and sacrifice individual
statistics for the good of the team. All of them bring different skills to the
table, but all of them compliment the stars of the team beautifully.
Critics always point to their age, but the Spurs keep
pointing to their fingers, which now hold four rings. Going for their fifth
this year seemed impossible just a few weeks back as they faltered (by their
standards) down the stretch and received the three seed, meaning only one
series with home court advantage.
But their championship pedigree has taken them back to the
Western Conference Finals. Phoenix didnt stand a chance in their first round
series after dropping a heartbreaking Game One in San Antonio that crushed
their spirits and drained the energy needed to stay competitive.
In the second round, New Orleans had every opportunity to
advance, but the Spurs buckled down on defense – like champions do – by
limiting the Hornets to 15.6 fewer points per game over the last two games than
they had given up over the first five.
Now theyre back in familiar territory fighting for a berth
in the Finals. Im not saying they fly under the radar. The Spurs are the
Spurs. Everyone knows this group is a championship team, and one of the best
weve seen in a long time.
But here they are, again, rightfully thinking they are the
underdog because everyone is talking about the revamped Celtics, the deep
Pistons, and a scary Laker team featuring Kobe Bryant with something to prove.
The Lakers are the slight favorites because they own home
court advantage. The Spurs wouldnt want it any other way. It takes the
pressure off and lets them concentrate on what they do best – playing defense
and winning championships.