San Antonio Spurs 95, Golden State Warriors 88: Inside edition

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AT&T CENTER — To the casual fan, the Spurs have always been a boring, grind-it-out type of team. The subtle silver and black color scheme has something to do with it, as does the team’s penchant for staying outside of the national news. To those who follow the team and/or league on a daily basis, though, know that the San Antonio Spurs have become a dynamic offensive team less and less reliant upon its defense.

Although, if you ask Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the team has swung too far in that direction. Coming into this season, improving the defense was a priority and the ability to win games without posting astronomical offensive efficiencies on a nightly basis needed to be called upon.

The Spurs’ 95-88 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday was that type of win. The Spurs shot less than 23 percent from behind the 3-point line and assisted on only 52 percent of the team’s field goals (19 assists on 36 made baskets, down from the team’s season average of 63 percent), but were able to grind out a victory thanks to an inside-out performance reminiscent of the old days.

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, marking his seventh straight game with at least three blocks (4.1 bpg during that stretch). Tiago Splitter added 19 points and nine rebounds, continuing his strong, physical play as of late.

“[Splitter’s] been hurt a good portion of the time he’s been here and hasn’t had a chance to play consistent minutes,” Popovich said. “People are finally getting to see him healthy and with consistent minutes.”

Splitter is still primarily a finisher in pick-and-roll situations, but lately he’s shown that he can get baskets running the floor out ahead of other bigs and in the post. Sort of. He still needs too much space in the lane to get off his running hook shot and falls back on his reverse layup too often, but he’s improving. On one possession against the Warriors, Splitter defended David Lee exquisitely on one end and went down to the other end and immediately created post position.  The Spurs got the ball right to Splitter and he turned and scored. It was excellent economy of movement on the offensive end for Tiago.

The other member of the Spurs’ three-big rotation, Boris Diaw, had a very Boris Diaw stat line. Diaw didn’t score and took only one field goal attempt, while grabbing nine rebounds and handing out five assists. Diaw was a big part of the lineup late in the third quarter that created what little separation there was in this game.

The Warriors boast an improved defense this season (11th in the league in defensive efficiency following Friday night’s game, up from 27th last season), but Gregg Popovich and his staff still found an area to target with Duncan and Splitter. Golden State is without center Andrew Bogut for an extended period of time, and San Antonio took advantage of his absence by attacking the Warriors in the post.

According to Synergy Sports, the Spurs average a shade over seven possessions per game that that are classified as postups (meaning the possession ends with a shot, turnover or foul in the post, doesn’t include plays that involve kicking the ball out of the post). On those plays, the Spurs are averaging less than a point per possession. Against Golden State on Friday night, the Spurs had 11 postup plays, shooting 9-of-10 from the field on David Lee and Co., and producing 1.73 PPP. The Spurs scored almost 82 percent of the time the ball went into the low block.

In general, Coach Pop doesn’t like to make adjustments from game-to-game in the regular season. To him, the regular season is generally about reinforcing how he wants his team to play. That’s not to say that the Spurs won’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. With Bogut out, San Antonio was presented an opportunity to take advantage inside. In a performance reminiscent of the good old days, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter were happy to oblige.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats and Hoopdata