During the 2007-8 season the Boston Celtics displaced the San Antonio Spurs as the league’s premier defensive team. Tom Thibodeau and the Celtics personnelÂ trumped Gregg Popovich and San Antonio’s squad, and theÂ Spurs spent the better part of the last two seasonsÂ with a loose grip on their once proud defensive stalwart status. One of San Antonio’s goals for this season is to re-discover themselves as an elite defensive ball club, and they’re showing steady improvement. But they’re still a long way from the night in, night out dominance that once characterized the team.
In the early 90s, David Bowie covered Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” onÂ the album Black Tie, White Noise.Â It sounded odd to hear the rock icon singing the tune ofÂ his musical disciple, but it still somehow worked through the speakers of my stereo. When asked about the choice,Â Bowie quipped “That’sÂ me singing Morrissey singing David Bowie.”
Boston’s championship template is strikingly similar to the Spurs’ approach throughout the first 7 seasons of this decade. Hopefully, by the end of the season,Â Spurs fans will look at their team’s defense and say “that’s San Antonio becoming the Celtics becoming the Spurs.”Â Odd analogy, I know. But there it is.
So in the big picture, Boston-San Antonio comparisons, and games between the two teams, are always already at the forefront of my mind. It doesn’t take a nationally televised game on TNT to stir that pot. But in the smaller picture, this is merely an early game in a long season between two good teams. It’s not that important in terms of Boston vs. San Antonio.Â
If these two teams were to meet in the Finals (we can dream), it would be like two old friends finding one another in college after spending high school six states apart. Both teams will grow too much between now and the end of the season for us to place tooÂ heavy an emphasis onÂ this game. This is middle school cafeteria conversation. Puberty and girls and all kinds of growing up lie ahead.
So in that sense, don’t get bent out ofÂ shape if San Antonio loses tonight. And don’t fill the comment threads of boards and blogs with messianic proclamationsÂ if they win. But do watch the Spurs’Â defense.
San Antonio is slowlyÂ reclaimingÂ theirÂ defensive swagger, but they needed to beat up a few mediocre teams to get back to respectability. Tonight marks the start of a stretch of games that will give a goodÂ indication of whether the Spurs are the sort of team thatÂ get their jolliesÂ bullying the middle of the pack or ifÂ they areÂ really one of the tough kids.
The Spurs started the season ranked near the bottom of the league byÂ nearly every defensive metric. In terms of defensive efficiency, San Antonio has scraped back to the middle. But their defenseÂ ranks third in OTS% (just ahead of Boston at 51.5), seventh in straight FG% allowed (again, just ahead of Boston), and eighth in O3P%.Â Â Couple those respectable percentages withÂ a strong defensive rebounding rate (fifth in the league), and the Spurs are approaching a place dominance. It’sÂ a good trajectory.
Setting aside specific schemes, San Antonio’s defensive philosophy is basicÂ to good basketball. TheyÂ want to contest hard, force oneÂ lower-than-their-opponent-would-wantÂ percentage shot, and board. That, and don’t give up easy points in transition.Â Against Golden State, Washington and Milwaukee, this was an easy task. Let’s see how the team fares against Boston, Denver and Utah.
For more thoughts on the game, check out CelticsHub. I answered a handful of their questions about the Spurs in advance of tonight’s game. Love me. And besides, it’s one of the best team blogs going. Elsewhere, PtR has their game thread up and Spurs.com has post practice video from Tony Parker, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner.