Two teams executed what they wanted to do this season better than any other — the Chicago Bulls on defense, the San Antonio Spurs on offense.
Yet, when the talk of a title came up it was always the Lakers out of the West, Miami and Boston in the East.
“I think we’ve been a pain in the ass for the press this year, we just get in the way of the conversation…” Gregg Popovich said before his team took on the Lakers.
The Spurs have always been fine with that. It’s not about flash, it’s about execution and belief in a system. That execution is half of what the Spurs need to win.
Sticking to the system that is their strength. It’s not the system itself — what the Spurs run is not better or worse than the Lakers triangle, or what is done in Boston, Chicago, or even Memphis and Philadelphia. What is different in San Antonio is the willingness to stick to that system and execute it properly every time down. They as a team commit to the system in a way other teams do not.
Talent matters — they need the Tim Duncans and the Manu Ginobilis and the Tony Parkers — but the Spurs made their leaps forward this season without a massive roster overhaul as some had called for. Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell explained it this way in an email to PBT.
What the Spurs didn’t do is blow up their team. They didn’t move Richard Jefferson, although they found a creative way of reducing his annual salary. They didn’t decide that trading away one of their Big 3 was their next ticket to contention. They made small, surgical changes that left the rest of the body intact and unharmed.
The beauty of this approach is that the Spurs out-execute most teams because their players, by and large, breathe the Spurs’ system. In San Antonio, this takes time. One full season, at least. Sometimes longer. By limiting their personnel turnover the Spurs set themselves up to… beat you with a bench that is not only talented, but one that clearly understands the nuances of Spurs basketball.
In the playoffs, the pressure is more intense — pressure from opposing defenses is tougher (especially as teams advance), pressure with the weight of the games increases. It becomes suffocating for some.
The Spurs, they just execute it. They know they can they dare you to match.
But the Spurs do not have the overwhelming talent of the Lakers, Celtics and Heat. That means their margin for error is smaller.
Which brings us to the second thing that has to happen for the Spurs — they can’t afford injuries. They need to stay fresh and healthy.
Already Manu Gimobili has a sprained elbow. That is not likely enough to cost them much against Memphis — the Grizzlies big men are their strength — but from the second round on they will need him at or near 100 percent.
“I think we can play with anybody,” Popovich said. “The question for us is if we can stay healthy and last against all these young, athletic deep teams.”
If they can, you know they can execute the Spurs system. Ii they do that they have a chance to beat anybody. And win another title.