[Editor's note: This was written before the Warriors' loss to the Lakers. -jrw]
The Spurs are starting to freak me out a little. They keep winning games without key people and in trying circumstances, no matter what the schedule throws at them. We've never quite seen this before, and we've enjoyed *a lot* of quality, winning basketball these past 27 (!!!) years.
It's hackneyed and cliche to trot out the well-worn "nobody talks about the Spurs" complaint by now, and really I don't care nor do I think anyone around the team cares how little attention they've gotten. In fact, just about everyone affiliated with the franchise prefers it that way. The Warriors have been so good, so historically obscene, that just about everyone and everything has gotten short shrift in their wake. The only people who can steal headlines from Stephen Curry are LeBron James and Donald Trump, with the former taking sabbaticals to Miami and writing cryptic sub-tweets and the latter feeling the need to reassure the American public about the size of his... hands. Well, there's also Kanye West, but he's basically a crazy person.
Okay, they're not the Warriors. I don't think any sensible person thinks they're as good, at least for the time being. But I do believe they've closed the gap somewhat, and they do deserve an immense amount of credit for taking care of business against teams they should beat to the degree that we've never seen anything like this in NBA history.
Here's some minutiae to wrap your head around.
The Spurs have not lost a game to a team we can definitively declare will not make the playoffs since Nov. 20 at New Orleans. That was 50 GAMES ago. Maybe the Bulls won't make it, maybe the Wizards won't, but both those squads have star power and quality rosters so I wouldn't bet against them and I certainly wouldn't term either road loss as "embarrassing" or anything like that. After all, both Washington and Chicago advanced further in the playoffs last season than the Spurs did.
The Spurs have led more games when the horn sounded to signify the end of the fourth quarter than the Warriors have. San Antonio has played 62 games. You add up the minutes all their guys have played and it equals 14,880. You divide that by 62 and you get 240 on the nose. Divide 240 by the five dudes who have to be on the court at all times, and you get 48. What does that mean? Well, it's my lame way of telling you the Spurs haven't played a second of overtime this season. They've been the better team --as defined by the scoreboard, anyway-- in 53 of their 62 games at the end of regulation. The Warriors, on the other hand, are a mere 50-5-5. If this were hockey or soccer the standings would practically be a dead heat!
Then you factor in the games missed due to injuries and rest and minutes played. The Warriors' "Big Three" of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have missed just six games combined so far, whereas for the Spurs their three most valuable players, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan, have missed 26. I think it's safe to say that the Warriors are more reliant on their top three guys than the Spurs are on their top three, and Golden State's guys have been much healthier. The injuries are also comparable when you get down to the next tier of guys, the four through seven on the totem pole. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Patty Mills have missed 24 games combined for the Spurs. Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Shaun Livingston have missed 29 for the Dubs. We're still talking 50 games for the Spurs' critical guys versus 35 for the Warriors.
There's an even bigger disparity in time logged. Kawhi Leonard leads the Spurs with 1,868 minutes and the Warriors' star trio have all played more, with Green leading the way at 2,034. San Antonio's top seven guys have combined for 10,020 minutes in 62 games. Golden State's top seven have played 10,989 in 60. The average Spurs top-seven player gets 23.1 minutes a night. Their Warriors counterparts are playing 26.2, to get similar results. Those minutes add up. The Spurs have won 53 of 62 games with Boris Diaw, David West, Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons, Boban Marjanovic, etc. playing about a third of their minutes. The spare parts on the Dubs are playing 23.5 percent of their minutes.
Finally, we need to look at how good the Spurs have been in the clutch of late. They started the season disastrously in that regard, but have been superb since December, basically. Obviously the win at New Orleans, where they ended the game with a Warriors-esque 20-5 run in the final six minutes is an extreme example, but the Spurs have improved dramatically in clutch situations, defined by NBA.com as the margin being between five points ahead and five points behind with fewer than five minutes to go.
It's only come up in 19 games and 65 minutes total, but the Spurs are second in the league in clutch net rating at 24.1 --behind guess who-- 120.4 offensive and 96.3 defensive. They're also 14-5 in those games. Essentially they've copied the Warriors M.O. these past four months. They're hardly ever losing, and when they lose they're getting blown out of the water, while winning all the tight ones.
The Spurs' record is not smoke and mirrors and not a fluke. This isn't 2010-2011. They're really, really damn good, with a point differential still on pace to be the best of all-time. I'm still not ready to step out on a limb and declare them capable of giving the Warriors a series, but if they're still undefeated at home two weeks from now, on March 20, I'll have to quit picking nits, shut up and enjoy the ride.
(P.S. I'm totally not gonna do that.)