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Spurs' Path to a Championship

Though last year was a very exciting run until we ran into the OKC buzz-saw, my optimism for one more Spurs championship this year is just as high. Since the injury to Russell Westbrook, and the return of Parker and Ginobili, the Spurs are seen widely as the best team to challenge Miami. Let's look at the Spurs’ path to a championship.

Golden State

This team is the NBA’s post-season darling, largely based on their youthful play led by their baby-faced killer of a leader, Steph Curry. Their strength is in their offense, with one of the highest scoring teams in the league at 101.2 points per game in the regular season. However, the Spurs’ offense is pretty good too, posting 103 per game. This will be a shootout!

In terms of offensive efficiency, though, the Spurs rank 7th in the league to the GSW’s 10th ranking. The Spurs are simply more selective and disciplined in their shooting. In terms of defense, however, it is not even close. The Spurs are 3rd in defensive efficiency, allowing 96.6 points per game, while GSW is 13th, allowing 100.3. Of the remaining 4 teams in the West, GSW has the worst defense by far, almost completely giving up their offensive advantage with their loose defense. The average point differential for GSW is less than one (.9); it is 6.4 for the Spurs.

In my opinion, this series will be one between men and boys. This Spurs team has fought the best the NBA has had to offer over the past decade, and these GSW players are along for their first extended ride in the NBA playoffs. Have fun, boys! It won’t last much longer.

Spurs in 4.

Memphis or OKC?

OKC clearly is at a disadvantage without Westbrook. Their league-leading efficiency differential of 11 points in the regular season is even better than Miami’s 9.8 point efficiency differential.

The efficiency differential statistic equals the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency scores. Since doing well generally means scoring high on the former and low on the latter, a high score on the efficiency differential statistic means that a team is very well balanced on either side of the ball.

This was true for OKC before they lost Westbrook (23.98 PER is 2nd for all point guards, at a 31.2 usage rate--1st among all point guards). Durant will pick up some of the slack, but will the other players pick up the rest? Against an upstart Houston team, okay. Against a rugged Memphis team that has shown its playoff mettle over the past 3 seasons, and just knocked off a powerful Clippers team? I don’t think so. This is the western conference semi-finals. You need your best 2 players.

I'll be rooting for OKC, though. I think the path to the championship is easier for the Spurs if OKC beats Memphis. I would take a Westbrook-less OKC over a resurgent Memphis (I still remember 2011) or the Clippers (despite recent outcome, I never bet against Chris Paul).

Memphis in 6.

Spurs vs. Memphis

I have a healthy respect for Memphis. The Spurs split the season series 2-2. An overtime win in December (at home), an overtime loss in January (at Memphis), a blow-out win at home a week later, and a close loss at Memphis in April. This game will not please the masters of TV or the NBA, despite the fact that it will be a slugfest much like their 2011 playoff matchup!

The biggest difference between this year and 2011 is that the Spurs will bring much more scoring, and Memphis will bring much less. Memphis will play tough defense (best defensive efficiency among remaining West teams at 97.4), hit the boards (highest offensive rebounding rate among remaining West teams), and take care of the ball (lowest turnover rate among remaining West teams).

However, they cannot score the ball! Their effective field goal percentage is not only the lowest among remaining West teams, but at 47.2%, it was the 3rd lowest in the league during the regular season. Who said trading Rudy Gay helped them?

How they beat the Clippers I do not know. I did not watch the series. My sense is that they got the Clippers to lose their cool by pounding on them (oh, and they didn’t solve Z-Bo). The Spurs will expect the pounding, and will not make the same mistakes as the Clippers this year, or as they made in 2011. We’ll be ready for Randolph this year!

Spurs in 6.

Spurs vs. Miami

As I watched Miami’s historic run this year, I said all along that I don’t have to worry about them until the NBA Finals. If the Spurs take advantage of the path that has been cleared for them this post-season, they will find themselves in a finals matchup for the ages. This will be a passing of the torch, or not, series. The Spurs’ 4 championships versus Miami’s 2 (one in Wade’s prime, and one in Lebron’s).

Miami’s offensive efficiency rating of 110.3 is the best in the league, and their defensive efficiency rating is 7th best (at 100.5), leaving an efficiency differential of 9.8. That’s great team balance!

The Spurs’ offensive efficiency rating of 105.7 is 7th best in the league, and their defensive efficiency rating of 99.2 is 3rd best, leaving an efficiency differential of 6.7. That’s pretty good team balance, too!

To beat Miami, the Spurs will have to make LeBron a passer, and live with whatever happens after that. It’s team-based defensive discipline is perhaps the best able to withstand the onslaught Miami will bring. Doubling and tripling Lebron will create open shooters in Allen, Miller, Chalmers, and Battier, so the double and triple teaming will have to come from the big who is not guarding Bosh. That doesn't leave many options.

At PG, I like Parker against Chalmers. At SG, Allen trumps Green, but can his backup (Miller) trump Ginobili? Defense at this position will be one key. At SF, Lebron will be Leonard’s career test. All I expect is that he makes Lebron work hard, and maybe frustrates him some. At PF, Duncan and Bosh will have a monster battle, but only my bias says Duncan’s savvy wins out. I’m afraid of Bosh! At C, every player on both sides is a role player. From here will come the series' X-factor. If Splitter doesn't make it back, I'm betting on Bonner stretching Miami's defense with his 3-point shooting against Miami's center.

On the defensive end, I think the centers who can best help control guard drives to the basket (Lebron and Wade’s drives on Spurs’ end, and Parker and Ginobili's drives on Miami’s end) will be the ones helping their team to a championship. Duncan will likely play Bosh to a draw. Parker and Ginobili both must be in top form offensively, while shutting down both Miami guards.

Overall, team defense on Lebron will need to be sharp. Luckily, the Spurs have already developed team defensive rules for Lebron. They’ll need to be dusted off!

Spurs in 7.

This will go down as one of the best Finals of all time. That's how Tim Duncan will go out.

Go Spurs Go!

This is fan-created content on PoundingtheRock.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff at Pounding the Rock.

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