The Golden State Warriors begin the long road to defending their title Saturday at Oracle Arena. They’ll face one of the more storied franchises in professional sports when the San Antonio Spurs roll through town.
After stringing together back-to-back 60-plus win seasons, the Spurs stumbled into the 2018 playoff picture, finishing the season with a record of 47-35. It was good enough to squeeze in as a seven seed, but a far cry from what NBA fans have become accustomed to from San Antonio over their 21-year stretch of brilliance.
PG: Patty Mills
PG: DeJounte Murray
SF: Kyle Anderson
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol
Gregg Popovich has mixed and matched his lineups this season, but this is the group that has started the majority of the time. Danny Green might make an appearance with the lead group at some time during the first round, but expect Pop to use a dual point guard lineup against the Warriors early in games. Aldridge has anchored the Spurs offense all season and at 37-years-old, Gasol can still do damage.
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Manu Ginobili
SG: Danny Green
SF/PF: Rudy Gay
PF: Davis Bertans
Parker and Ginobili have teamed up in the Spurs backcourt for the last 17 years. Parker played a career-low 19.9 minutes per game during the regular season and Ginobili only played 20 a game. They are fresh and ready for the playoff, but no one knows how much they have left in the tank. Gay was a very nice addition. He’s played both forward positions for San Antonio and when healthy, he’s put up solid numbers. Green and Bertans are two of the better 3-point shooters on the Spurs roster.
San Antonio ranked 27th in the league in points per game this season, averaging 102.7 per game. Their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 107.9 ranked 17th in the league.
While most teams are emulating the style of Warriors and Houston Rockets, the Spurs have chosen a different path. San Antonio ranked 27th in the league in 3-point attempts and 26th in 3-point percentage. They attempted 61.2 shots per game inside the 3-point line, including a lot of mid-range jumpers. On the season, they attempted nearly 400 less shots from behind the arc than the Warriors.
Despite the lack of long balls, the Spurs still run an efficient, although slow, offensive scheme. They rank 15th in the league in assists, fourth in turnovers committed and sixth in offensive rebounding. They are a methodical group of veterans that make very few mistakes and typically make the shot they intend to take.
Throughout their two decades of excellence, the Spurs have shown a remarkable ability to change their style of play on the offensive end. On the defensive side of the ball, they play about as well as you can, even though they boasting six players over the age of 30 in their primary rotation.
San Antonio allowed just 99.8 points per game this season, good enough for first overall. Their defensive rating of 104.8 was third in the league. They slow it down on the offensive end, which helps these numbers, but they also dictate the pace of the game for their opponents.
The Spurs lack a defensive stopper in the middle, but they still finished fourth in the league in blocks. Aldridge led the team in rebounding at 8.5 boards per game and Gasol wasn’t far behind at 8.0 a night. They rebound as a team, finishing just outside the top 10 in total rebounds and 14th in the league on the defensive glass.
In addition to playing solid team defense, the Spurs committed the fewest fouls in the league at 17.2 per game. They give up a ton of 3-pointers (26.3 per game), but they defend the arc well, holding their opponents to just 34.8 percent from deep.
Like the Warriors, the Spurs have been here before. Popovich should already be in the Hall of Fame and half of his squad is heading in on their first year of eligibility. This is a team in the truest sense of the word. Veterans have taken a step back to allow young players to develop. They know each other well and they play to their strengths.
On the downside, the injury to Kawhi Leonard has robbed the Spurs of the best two-way player in the NBA and left the team in a strange place. If he was healthy, this is probably a 55-60 win team sitting much higher in the Western Conference playoffs. But he’s not healthy and questions surrounding his injury have left a dark cloud hanging over the franchise.