The first two parts of the review:
Good news, everyone! The Spurs won the championship about three and a half months ago and now we're just under a month away from opening night. They'll get some rings, they'll drop a banner down and it'll be a great time. Here's part three of the Total Season Review, where I'm looking back at the entire season from a Pounding the Rock perspective. We'll be looking at some of the best articles put out this year by our wonderful writers. This isn't a short one, so get yourself a nice beverage, whatever it is you enjoy, coffee, tea, juice or maybe a libation. Sit back and let's revisit all of the great stuff that happened last season.
Part two ended with Marco Belinelli winning the three-point contest during all-star weekend, making him the first Italian and the first Spur to win the competition.
We'll start part 3 with a piece on Matt "Red Mamba" Bonner. Stephen Shepperd penned a great article on Matty B's new shoe deal with adidas that was brought on when New Balance (Bonner's first shoe deal) got out of the basketball shoe game and Matty found his supply of trusty BB8026s quickly dwindling. The article explains just how Matty received a deal with adidas that led to this.
The second game of the second leg of the Rodeo Road Trip was a SEGABABA against the Blazers after beating the Clippers the night before. The Spurs won the game 111-109 without Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. Patty Mills dropped 29 (on 26 shots) and Manu Ginobili posted a 16-5-4 in just 19 minutes of work to finish with a game-high +20. My favorite play of the game was when Tiago Splitter, in his first game back from an early January shoulder injury, leads a fast-break for the good guys, makes a nice pass to Marco at the wing, and then makes his way to the hoop for an easy layup. It's not too often that Tiago handles the ball, much less dribbles it across halfcourt.
The next day, in a blockbuster move, the Spurs traded Nando de Colo to the Toronto Raptors for Austin Daye. Nando is now out of the league after signing with powerhouse CSKA Moscow in July, and Austin Daye has another year with the Spurs to try to find his way in the NBA.
Bill Simmons writes an annual column about the NBA's worst contracts and last season he ranked Tiago Splitter's current 4-year $36M deal as the 23rd-worst in the league. Here's his reasoning,
"Every four years, all NBA teams have to overpay a role player like he's a valuable starter."
Yup, that's a rule. They all have to do it. And you wondered why San Antonio spent $36 million on Splitter (when it could have just stolen Robin Lopez for $5 million), or Cleveland lavished Jack with six times the money that Randy Foye would have cost. By the way, I always take it personally when San Antonio overpays someone. The Spurs are supposed to be the smartest team! Come on, R.C. Buford! You're a role model!!! You gave $36 million to someone who couldn't stay on the court in the 2013 Finals???? Not you, too! Why??????
J. Gomez wrote a fantastic response to Simmons' take and I highly recommend checking it out if you missed it before. Here's a little excerpt:
There are two factors that matter when determining a player's value: how good he is and how well he fits in with a team. Going by those parameters, the Spurs would have been foolish to let Splitter walk. Tiago might not be worth $9 million a year to every team in the league, but he is certainly earning his money in San Antonio. There's no doubt about it.
Michael Erler wrote a response to Gomez' take saying that Simmons wasn't totally off base. He said Pop thinks of and uses Splitter as a role player.
Bruno Passos, who will be taking over the bulk of next season's game previews, reflected on the Spurs' success on the RRT, noting that,
While we wait for the team to return to #FullSquadStatus, there are some things we learned that SA will carry with them into the playoffs.
One, the bench is a force - a proven commodity that will be able to carry the team when needed. The Spurs' second unit is the best in the league at scoring, and it's not even close. The team is getting eight more points per game from its reserves than it did last year. Patty Mills' recent explosions will only put more pressure on defenses, while giving Pop (and fans) another guy to trust with the ball in his hands.
The thing that really drew me to PtR years ago was the off-the-wall stuff that finds its way onto the site from time to time. DrumsInTheDeep put out PtR's 4th-Annual Academy Awards Photoshop Preview. These are always fun and it's a worthy quick read. Here's Boris Diaw in Gravity.
This past year I made a couple of highlight videos set to music. The first was of Manu's assists and then Boris got the extended treatment in What's gotten into Boris Diaw? With Patty Mills having the year he had I couldn't resist giving the little Aussie some love shortly after Popovich had this to say about him,
He was spectacular, and he's done that for us all year long. He's a good competitor, and a tough cover. He's a real committed player. He came in this year with a changed body that he worked on all summer. Mentally he's making great decisions, and he's been a significant factor for us every game.
Here's a short Patty highlight video over James Brown's Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, which came at the end of this piece about how great Patty's play has been.
The Spurs enjoyed a four-day break after the Rodeo Road Trip before they hosted the Pistons on February 26. SA won the game 120-110, Erler said the Pistons are good for basketball as long as you're not a Pistons fan, EIGHT Spurs scored in double figures, and it was the start of the Spurs' 19-game winning streak. It was also the game that Kawhi Leonard made his return after he broke his hand. He teamed up with Cory Joseph for this alley-oop and for just a moment I think all Spurs fans were a little scared after his awkward fall.
If you missed Travis Hale's piece on Gregg Popovich's paper cup, I encourage you to read it. The beginning:
I've watched from a few feet away on a couple of occasions and can see that like so many components of this team and organization, there is an unappreciated precision in carrying out such a simple task.
There are a group of men assigned to it, rotating throughout the game. Sure these men have other duties to perform, but taking care of it is just as important as anything they will do during the night.
There is nothing fancy about it. It's an unassuming paper Gatorade cup. Actually it's two cups stacked together, doubled for stability and to prevent sweating. No bells and whistles. No rock and roll.
The Spurs then rolled over the Bobcats, Mavericks and Cavaliers to run their win-streak to four and their overall record to 44-16 before they faced the Miami Heat in San Antonio on March 6th. Before the game ESPN aired this nice origin piece on Ginobili.
By the end of the night the Spurs won their fifth game in a row by destroying Miami 111-87.
Here are a couple of plays from the game. The first is Kawhi vs. LeBron and the second is Patty Mills connecting from way downtown.
No defense really shuts down a player as versatile and talented as LeBron. But the best shot that teams have to contain him is to force him to do what he struggles with the most. The Spurs' team defense took away the possibility to create close shots for himself in half court settings and Kawhi Leonard took away two of LeBron's best play types.
Gomez and I made cases for Ginobili and Diaw to win sixth man of the year, but the voters gave it to Jamal Crawford who scored 18.6 ppg. That wasn't totally unexpected, but it was a little disappointing. With the entire Spurs second unit playing so well it was a little hard to pick just one to win the award.
The win-streak, league-best record, and the dominating performance over the Heat led the Spurs from "they can't beat the good teams" to the top of most of the national power rankings where they would deservedly stay for the rest of the season.
The Trail Blazers have had more success than any other team against the Spurs in the regular season since, well, forever. The Blazers are the only team in the league that doesn't have a losing regular season record versus the Spurs with each franchise winning 76 games. On March 12th the Spurs were trailing in the series 75-76 and had gone just 5-13 over their last 18 meetings. J.R. Wilco and Dave Deckard talked with each other before the game in one of their always entertaining chats.
With Aldridge able to play only 21 minutes after he suffered a bruised back early in the second half, the Spurs won their eighth straight, 103-90.
Next up were the Lakers, who lost to the good guys by 34 points. A little history was also made that night. The Spurs' Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili surpassed Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper and are now the second winningest trio of all time, trailing only the 80's Celtics trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. The Spurs trio should pass the Celtics trio in the upcoming season barring significant injury.
The streak is truly impressive. The Mavericks hold the second place streak with 11 seasons (2000-01 to 2010-11.) If this is the final year of the Spurs record, it will be 2028 before anyone can hope to break their record. (That's not a typo.)
Who knows, the streak could very well outlast the Miami Big-Three. Maybe it'll never end and outlast us all.
It's a record that more than likely will never be broken, and in that sense it is one of the great streaks in the history of sports. We've been lucky to have cheered for the good guys through it all.
By this point the Spurs were playing some beautiful basketball. Timmy had six assists in the game, including two beauties to Tiago.
Gomez provided us with --Learning the Spurs playbook: scoring with off-ball screens. Great stuff from our resident Argentine:
The Spurs offense is a thing of beauty. Crisp passes, continual ball and player movement, and individual prowess combine to make for a supremely entertaining viewing experience. But while we enjoy the ride, we might overlook all the preparation and meticulous execution that goes into the plays the Spurs run.
San Antonio ran its win-streak to 14 with wins over the Lakers, Kings, Dubs and Sixers. In a fun piece, Travis Hale paid tribute to Manu's stubbornness after he came up just a little short on a dunk attempt against Philly.
Gomez translates Manu's La Nación columns for Pounding the Rock. It's always fun to read these because Manu's honest and he opens up even more than usual. About the Spurs' big-three he says that "We are aware we are part of something special." He also had this to say about the win-streak:
The first four games of the streak were nothing out of the ordinary, we had our ups and downs. But on the last five or six we've actually played really well. The fact that every player that suited up recorded a point, assist and rebound on Friday against the Lakers was just a product of the circumstances on a game that was over after a quarter and a half, but also a sign we are at a high level, not playing down to our rivals despite their records, moving the ball and defending well.
The Spurs won a couple of games against the Nuggets, the game in Denver so bad that the crowd did the wave, and Gomez reminded us that us fans should temper our expectations for players on the edge of the roster.
Caleb Saenz did a series of posts from the war letters of Timothy Theodore Duncan that were a blast to read. In the last one leading into the playoffs his imagined entry for Tim on April 2nd follows:
It would seem that the mud we found ourselves in just months ago has spread throughout this battlefield, as more and more we are encountering troops with recognizable wounds and scars. Just a few nights ago, we fought against a once promising battalion that now finds itself looking for answers and cures. Tonight we faced a team without some of its greatest competitors, and though we showed no mercy in our swift and forceful destruction, we did find ourselves reflecting on our journey. We are merely weeks away from the base of the mountain. My beauty, you are no longer a dot on our map or a whispered tale in the mouths of irrational men. You are close. Each step takes us farther from our agonizing separation. Each day brings us closer to a rapturous reunion. And as we gear up for the final climb, we see no one ahead of us. No longer chasing the trails of other squadrons, there is only you and I. One line where there used to be many. If my devotion were an arrow, it would fly true and straight to your heart. There have been whispers that these are among my final battles, but the truth is I have not given this much thought. What consumes my attention and affection is only your beauty. And I am mere weeks away from embracing you once again. Until then, my prize. ~ Timothy
The Spurs finally lost after a perfect March when the Thunder completed the season sweep of the Spurs on April 3rd. With the last really long winning streak ending with a Conference Finals exit in 2012 you have to think that Pop was happy to be done with it.
In another creative offering from PtR, Travis Hale, inspired by Roy Hibbert suggesting that the Pacers needed to spend some time with their team psychologist, imagined the Spurs meeting with a psychologist in late January. I'd encourage you to read it so that this makes sense:
Baynes cradled T.T. McNutts as tears welled up in his eyes. "I just want to say that I didn't like it when you broke my ribs, Timmy" he said softly as Duncan nervously fidgeted with the sleeves of his flannel shirt. Baynes squeezed the bear harder and looked for assurance from Dr. Sweat. The Doctor nodded his approval. Baynes tossed T.T. McNutts into the air while rising from his seat. In a surprisingly graceful move he caught the teddy bear on his foot and punted T.T. McNutts across the room.
Gomez churns out great analysis like it's no big deal and less than two weeks from the start of the playoffs he penned How the Spurs' offense turned into the buzzsaw it is today.
One of the words often associated with the Spurs is system, which suggests that there's a rigid structure that shapes everything the Spurs do. Most people know that the Spurs have used a motion offense since Pop started coaching them, which seems to confirm the idea of continuity and orthodoxy. Yet it would be obvious for even the most casual fans that the Spurs' offense from eight years ago has very little in common with the offense that they run now, at least when it comes to specific sets. How did they make that transition? How did Pop figure out what tweaks were needed?
With wins against Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix (who all happened to be battling for the two remaining Western Conference playoff spots) the Spurs secured homecourt throughout the playoffs. Before dropping their last two the Spurs went 22-2. They averaged 110.4 points per game over the stretch which over the season would have led the league by 2.5 points.
The Spurs received an enormous amount of national coverage leading up to the playoffs and I collected some of the best in this piece that has links and excerpts from about 10 articles.
With the 2014-15 season just around the corner we'll spend one more article that reviews the playoffs before we entirely move past the fairy tale season and enjoy another campaign for the Larry O'Brien from the San Antonio Spurs.