Historically speaking, the month of March is a crucial time for San Antonio. If the Rodeo Road Trip is a litmus test to find out how the team compares to the rest of the league, then March is where adjustments made because of that test start to pay off.
Since Tim Duncan entered the league, according to win percentage, March has been the Spurs' best month in 7 different seasons. No other month has been the best of the season more than 3 times. In the 2 seasons (2008-09 and 2010-11) that San Antonio won less than 10 games in March in the Duncan Era, they also went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs. (The only other season the Spurs lost in the opening playoff round in the Duncan era was in 2000 versus the Phoenix Suns, when Duncan missed the series due to injury.)
Furthermore, in San Antonio's 5 championship seasons, the Spurs have won an incredible 84.8% of the games they've played in March. It is their most productive time of the regular season, and has shown when they are ready to compete for a championship.
This bit of history is important now because in what has been an up-and-down year for San Antonio, it has been difficult to determine where the Spurs lie among the best teams in the NBA. Now, since we know that they usually turn up their play in March, we can see if they follow the pattern.
So far, the Spurs' month has been encouraging. They're on a 5-game winning streak dating back to February 27. In March, their 3 wins have been convincing. The biggest factor the Spurs' recent surge has been the re-emergence of Kawhi Leonard. After battling through a season full of different injuries and ailments, Leonard has been able to become a steadying force on the team again. He's scoring well, with 20+ points in each of the last 4 games. In addition to his scoring boost, he's rebounded strongly, and forced turnovers all over the floor.
Tony Parker's recent play is another big bonus for the Spurs. This season has been rough for the veteran point guard; he's been banged up, and just flat out not played well for much of the season, but he now seems to be turning it around. In the past few games he's increasingly flashed that familiar aggression and quickness in getting to the rim, all of which culminated in his 32 points on 13-19 outing versus the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
Leonard and Parker are two of the biggest cogs in the machine. As they go, the rest of the team goes. Now that they're back, the team as a whole is becoming stronger. The San Antonio Spurs aren't quite back to championship contender status yet. The teams that they've played in this 5-game stretch are either under .500 on the year, or have significant injuries. Also, as good as they've looked recently, it's only been for 5 games so far. That's a small sample size, and teams can get hot for short period of time then peter out. Once they start beating playoff-level competition consistently, then they'll be all the way back to normal.
MVP OF THE GAME
Tony Parker - 32 points on 13-19 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
As I discussed before, Tony Parker was on his game versus Chicago. He was relentless in getting to the hole, and his midrange jumper looked smooth. It's a long journey back to the way he's played for the past couple seasons, but Sunday showed significant progress.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"Having a game like today is great. So we're all very excited, for him and for us. Because we really need him to score."
--Manu Ginobili on Tony Parker's performance, via Dan McCarney
It might seem repetitive that we keep going over Parker's outing, but it's because I really can't stress it enough. If the Spurs are a Ferrari, he is the engine. To go fast, he needs to be right.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
50.7: The Bulls' shooting percentage on the day. That's a good mark for a team. In fact, they had a marginally better shooting percentage that the Spurs. The thing it, they got less opportunities to score because they kept turnnig the ball over.
15: The number of steals that the Spurs had in the game. Steals are so valuable to force because they're live-ball turnovers. They don't give the tream that turned it over time to get back on defense, it's just a good ol' fast break, giving the offense a chance for easy buckets. And that's what the Spurs were able to count on all game.
0: Made baskets for Tim Duncan. This game was largely a positive for San Antonio, but Duncan had a putrid day. It's weird how in the same game that the guys who have struggled all year flourished, and the one consistent player all year played awfully.
- Even if Parker doesn't get all the way back to that level, if he can just break out of his slump a little bit, it would be a huge help to the offense. The Spurs rely on Parker to be a threat in the paint to draw in defenders to create shots for others. But, if he can't hit a jumper and the defense just sags in, he can't do that. A permanent improvement on offense for the Spurs hinges on Parker's ability to somewhat consistently sink a jumpshot.
- The Spurs were able to push the ball at their highest level against the Bulls. Whether it was after a missed shot or a turnover, San Antonio got the ball up the floor in a hurry. They scored a staggering 35 fast break points, and had 17 more shots than Chicago did. They ruled the pace of the game with a vise-like grip, and it won them the game.
- Manu Ginobili also had a nice game for the silver and black. He had 16 points on only 8 shots, as well as 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. His performance wasn't as big as someone like Parker's or Leonard's, but it was just as important in getting the win. When they were out he kept the bench unit going, so San Antonio would never let up on Chicago.
The Spurs starting five are an unstoppable hell-beast at the moment and have been for the last few days. Just destroying people as a quintet— Michael Erler (@MichaelErlerSBN) March 8, 2015
Another development in Leonard's game: He's being a lot more vocal over calls. Which means he is talking to the officials.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneySAEN) March 8, 2015
Spurs are coming pic.twitter.com/3Xgjqh8zfp— Trevor Zickgraf (@yowhatupT) March 8, 2015
Kawhi is embarrassing Doug McDermott right now. Pop has to switch up the matchups because McDermott can't breathe right now.— Mark Travis (@Mark_Travis) March 8, 2015
*Sees bag marked "BULLS/SPURS GAME: DO NOT WATCH.* *watches* *sees score* *Michael Bluth voice* well I don't know what I was expecting— Brian CoolTeen (@Cosmis) March 8, 2015
Spurs back. Season over.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 8, 2015
Oh hey the Bulls are making another ru/PARKER LAYUP. "Here come the Bu/PARKER LAYUP.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 8, 2015
Shout out to the middle aged woman in the expensive seats trying to do the Spurs' claw celebration after Kawhi's dunk. Do you lady.— Andrew McNeill (@andrewamcneill) March 8, 2015
Oh my lord Spurs formed Voltron on that last play.— Amin Vafa (@AminNBA) March 8, 2015
Spurs... pic.twitter.com/q0efH1AfM1— Patrick Fenelon (@Patrick_Fenelon) March 8, 2015