It’s All in the Game: The Spurs Digging In To Win

It’s the usual suspects left fighting for an NBA title.

Since 1983, only seven different NBA franchises have housed the Larry O’Brien

championship trophy, and four of those franchises (San Antonio, Los Angeles,

Boston, and Detroit) comprise the Final Four that are battling for an

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 don’t

have flash. They don’t run and jump you out of the building. They don’t always

make it look pretty, but they don’t seem to lose, and guess what? They don’t


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 they’ve 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

same success.

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 Popovich’s 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 didn’t 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 they’re back in familiar territory fighting for a berth

in the Finals. I’m 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

we’ve 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 wouldn’t want it any other way. It takes the

pressure off and lets them concentrate on what they do best - playing defense

and winning championships.