It’s probably safe to say at this point that if you’re an NBA team and have wronged the San Antonio Spurs at any point this season, you might want to get out of their way. After a November slump saw them fall to 14th in the West and an 11-14 record, the Spurs have been on a mission to right the ship and become the team they know they are capable of being.
You could probably say they’re reaching mission accomplished territory. As the Redemption Tour continues to roll along, the Spurs ousted the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves 124-98— the same Pups team that beat them 128-89 back on November 28 — and continued to show many signs of improvement in the exact areas that failed them before.
- One of the biggest developments of the Spurs' current surge is not needing huge games from The Mid 3 (a.k.a. DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay) to win games, and as Spurs fans know well, depth is a big part of building teams that can make deep playoff runs (and especially win championships). The pace at which the role players are coming along was clear as day last night (is that a pun? I dunno), when The Mid 3 contributed a combined 36 points (or 29% of the team's 124 total points overall) in part thanks to some foul trouble for Aldridge and Gay. A few weeks ago that would have spelled sure trouble for this group as they typically needed big performances from at least two of those three to even stay in games regardless of the opponent. Last night, the Spurs barely missed a beat as Bryn Forbes (22), Marco Belinelli (17), Davis Bertans (15) and Jakob Poeltl (12) contributed 53% of the Spurs points on their own: a number usually reserved for the stars. The result was plenty of rest for The Mid Three last night, which is a good thing with a SEGABABA tonight in Houston. The more the role players contribute, the better off the Spurs will be in the long run.
- If there’s anything that can challenge the “surge of the role players” as the biggest reason for this team’s turnaround, it’s the defense. As has been covered extensively here, the Spurs have shown a marked improvement on that end of the floor after falling to the bottom of the league during their November slump. They have risen up to 19th in defensive rating in large part thanks to featuring the second best defense in the league since their six-game homestand began. While the Spurs lack any truly elite defensive personnel, the turnaround on that end can largely be attributed to learning the system, communication, and gaining trust in each other. Unlike earlier in the season, players can count on the help defense to be there when they switch. Before, the switch often didn’t even happen. Players are also closing out on the perimeter quicker, forcing more twos or hesitations from beyond the arc, and generally making life more difficult for opponents. It might be too much to ask this group to remain the second best defense for the entirety of the season, but if they can keep rising to the top half, or maybe even around 10th in the league to go with their newly-minted top 5 offense, there will be a lot more games to be won, including in the postseason.
- The Spurs accomplished another big feat last night: they became just the second team in NBA history and first since the 1971-’72 Milwaukee Bucks to have five straight wins by 25+ points. (Note: this stat is referring to their last five wins, not the last five games, which were not all wins for the Spurs.) That is obviously no small accomplishment considering how little it has been done before, and while not against the strongest of competition, it has been against currently playoff-bound (Clippers, 76ers) and teams that had handed them just as harsh of losses in the previous weeks (Jazz, Suns, Wolves). This team is showing a resilience and ability to not only bounce back, but also dominate in a way that was lacking in November. Watch out, NBA world.
- Biggest takeaway of the Game: This team is having fun together, and it’s one of the best signs you can ask for in a team with big aspirations. They are fun to watch, are playing as a team, and generally care about each other. That was more than could be said for at least one key person on last year’s squad, and that alone is enough to make you root even harder for this team to succeed.