The San Antonio No-Fly Zone
The Spurs long ago earned their reputation as a defensive juggernaut under the stern eye of Gregg Popovich. David Robinson and Tim Duncan formed the awe-inspiring Twin Towers that proved championship-worthy in 1999. Bruce Bowen's stint in silver and black solidified him as the premier perimeter defender in the league and one of the best of all time, and he set the tone on that end of the court for the 2003, 2005, and 2007 NBA Champion Spurs teams, while perennial All-NBA defender Duncan backed him up in the paint. But Bowen last took the court for San Antonio on April 28, 2009, and the team has struggled to find a defensive identity since. Until 2012.
Their names are Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Tiago Splitter. They are the re-invention of the San Antonio: the new and improved Spurs. They are symbols of reassurance for Spurs fans that the future is indeed bright as Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili inch closer to the end of their careers.
The Spurs have re-branded themselves as a shoot-first club with high-scoring guards and a plethora of three-point shooting. Over time, Coach Pop took pages from Rick Adelman's Sacramento Kings offensive powerhouses and added his own touches of wizardry to create a highly successful scoring team, yet one that has fallen short of the NBA's promised land each year.
Now, with the aforementioned new blood picking up the slack, the Big Three have found new life on both ends of the court. No longer are the main defensive responsibilities falling to them by default. Kawhi Leonard now draws the top perimeter scorer with Danny Green picking up the other. Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter showed, with their stellar efforts against the Utah bigs in Round One and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in Round Two, that they can more than handle themselves defensively against a variety of low-post threats.
As back-to-back Western Conference regular season championships have proven, this team can score. In fact, they can score just as well or better than anyone else. But what makes this latest edition of the Spurs so truly unbeatable is the defensive mindset that has developed before our very eyes, over the course of this season. When the Spurs traded quality combo guard George Hill for the draft pick that would bring Kawhi Leonard to the team, many doubted the wisdom of the move, myself included. When the team picked up Cleveland Cavaliers castoff Danny Green and began bringing him up from the Developmental League, few foresaw his potential as the starting two-guard. When the rumors proved true that Boris Diaw was coming to the fold, many Spurs faithful downplayed his chances of being an effective contributor this season, or ever.
But once again, the best front office in sports proved why they have a reputation for being infallible, or as close as it's possible to get to perfection. Along with Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Stephen Jackson, the San Antonio Spurs that have won 18 straight and have finally caught the eye of the nation because of a balanced attack of scintillating offense and stingy defense. They have combined toughness and athleticism with pure shooting and slick passing, and poured it on the foundation of veteran leadership and classic Spurs maturity across the board. But this unparalleled success of late has been because of those qualities showing themselves on both end of the floor. Offense and defense together again. The results are in, and the Spurs win. Again and again.