The first time the San Antonio Spurs won an NBA title, it was during the 1999 truncated, lockout-compressed season, when they defeated the New York Knicks 4-1 in the Finals. It was Tim Duncan’s first championship. Then, the Spurs weren’t favored to win the Western Conference, let alone advance to the finals, but they ignored their naysayers and swept past the last two rounds in the West before defeating the Knicks. Fast-forward to today, and Duncan and the Spurs find themselves in familiar standings, as a sleeper squad poised to win-it-all, as the franchise seeks its fifth NBA title.
With more than their share of 30-somethings, the Spurs may not seem like a logical choice to have at the summit of your brackets. But after running the NBA’s most effective transition attack in the regular season, the top-seeded Spurs took their full-court game to another level in their sweep of the Utah Jazz to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Monday’s 87-81 victory marked San Antonio’s sixth postseason sweep since Duncan’s rookie season in 1997-98. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with seven, have more in that span.
The Spurs won Game 1 by 15 points, Game 2 by 31 and Game 3 by 12, as the veteran Duncan, played sidekick to starting point guard Tony Parker’s MVP performances. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Spurs outscored the Jazz by 64 points in the first round, its second-best point differential ever in a playoff series. San Antonio scored 19.8 points per game in transition against Utah, an increase of nearly four points per game for its regular-season average, and the Spurs pinpoint shooting when on the break (62.2 percent from the floor) allowed them to average 1.30 points per play in transition, an increase from their NBA-best 1.24 transition points per play in the regular season. San Antonio dominated Utah from 3-point line as well; making 33 3-pointers to the Jazz’s nine during the series. While the Spurs made 41 percent of its 3-pointers in the first round, the Jazz shot just 20 percent from 3-point territory, including a 0-13 performance on Monday. After being knocked out by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round last season, San Antonio is looking to atone their early exit, and is riding the momentum of a 14-game winning streak.
San Antonio finished the regular season tied with the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the NBA at 50-16. With head coach Gregg Popovich being named the NBA Coach of the Year and San Antonio’s Big Three intact, with Manu Ginobili playing as an invaluable sixth man, with Parker having a career-season and the 36-year-old Duncan still consistent as “the Big Fundamental,” the Spurs have the championship pedigree to walk away with the title come June.
San Antonio has a 27-3 record in their last 30 games and is 19-1 on the road when the Big Three have played. So who’s the best in the NBA? OKC, Miami or the Spurs?