Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs have increased their record against the league’s elite teams to 13-3. This includes the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards.
The late-game efforts of Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol secured a 100-95 victory over the Thunder last night.
This concluded the season series, notching the Spurs a 2-1 advantage in wins over the Thunder.
This victory also secured the second seed for San Antonio.
This was yet another example of the Spurs’ ability to elevate their play against the league’s top teams. Despite poor shooting and inefficiency, the Spurs were able to secure the victory with their ball movement and defensive efforts.
Tonight’s performance was a testament to the legitimacy of the San Antonio Spurs as title contenders. Coming off of a rough loss to Golden State, the Spurs were able to rally around their core players and work as one cohesive unit.
This strong will to win is what separates the Spurs from opponents and has resulted in their 13-3 record against the league’s elite.
Finding a Groove Throughout the Roster
Although Leonard and Aldridge have struggled shooting as of late, their combined effort is evident. Leonard has had an MVP caliber year and Aldridge remains one of the league’s elite big men.
With each of these players accepting their advanced roles, the team has grown comfortable playing together. Neither of the two have been hesitant with their shot selection and have grown comfortable with their role in the Spurs’ system. Having two stars who can play comfortably play together has been one of the biggest factors in defeating the NBA’s top teams.
(possible) MVP vs. (possible) MVP pic.twitter.com/A0QFH7GCsx
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 1, 2017
While Aldridge and Leonard have adapted their play-styles to Spurs basketball, veterans Gasol and Manu Ginobli have continued to instill the classic style of play.
Ginobili has spent the entirety of his 14 year NBA career facilitating under Gregg Popovich and continues to do so. Despite averaging just eight points and three assists, he remains extremely important in creating plays. Quite simply, Ginobli is there to create a play when it’s most needed.
Gasol, on the other hand, has spent just one year with the Spurs and has already become a perfect addition. His post play, rebounding, passing and shooting have all been deadly since returning from injury. The court vision and offensive prowess of Gasol has also benefitted Aldridge greatly. Gasol’s ability to draw defenders and pass the ball has allowed Aldridge to find his spots on the floor freely.
Manu on his entry pass to Pau that led to LA's slam for a 96-95 lead: "I always throw into Pau whenever I can…He can make things happen."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) April 1, 2017
These four have been vital, but don’t even begin to scratch the surface of this team’s depth.
Patty Mills has had one of the most impressive seasons of his career and Danny Green continues to defend on a high level. Such depth allows the Spurs to rest their starters without worry and prepare for the most critical moments of each game.
The will to win for the Spurs has been unmatched this year. In the clutch, the Spurs have the highest win percentage of any team with 71% and commit the least amount of fouls. They also have the best clutch defensive rating and net rating with 92.1 and 24.6, respectively.
Popovich’s demand for competitiveness has led his team to the best clutch stats in the NBA. Their ability to close out games has set them apart from the rest of the league. Eight of their 13 victories against elite teams have come within eight points, proving their ability to come up clutch.
Their ability to close out games is one of the biggest factors contributing to their title candidacy.
Pop: "I was really impressed with the grit of the whole group. That's late to be down 21, but they just kept motoring along." #Spurs
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) April 1, 2017
The retirement of Tim Duncan brought about lots of concern regarding the team’s future. Without their leader of 20 years, many doubted the Spurs’ ability to contend against the NBA’s elite.
The Spurs have made it very clear that the culture has not changed.
They are, and always will be, winners.