San Antonio Spurs News

The San Antonio Spurs’ secret defensive formula under Gregg Popovich

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 26: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs draws up a play during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on March 26, 2019 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 26: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs draws up a play during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on March 26, 2019 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs have been a defensive juggernaut during the Gregg Popovich era. While they aren’t near the top of the league this year, one statistic remains the same.

One of the reasons why Gregg Popovich has earned the title of the greatest coach of all-time during his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs is his ability to churn out high-level defenses year in and year out.

Outside of Derrick White, who should be in consideration for First Team All-Defense this year, the Spurs don’t have much defensive talent on their roster so they’ve fallen to 20th in defensive rating after finishing in the top three in each of the past six years.

However, the main tenant of Pop’s defensive system in San Antonio is avoiding fouls and the Spurs have excelled in that area once again this year.

San Antonio has committed the least personal fouls per game this year keeping a long-standing Spurs tradition going.

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The Spurs have ranked number one in that statistic in four of the past seven years, they’ve ranked in the top three in seven of the past nine years, and they haven’t been out of the top 10 since the 2009-10 season.

The most glaring example of Popovich’s system in action came during the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals where the Spurs shut down James Harden by refusing to send him to the free throw line. Pop even taught his players to put their hands behind their backs when guarding Harden, and he would immediately sub out any player who committed a stupid foul on the Rockets’ star player.

San Antonio went on to win that series in six games, and they held Houston to just 75 points in game six even with Kawhi Leonard on the sidelines with an injury.

The Spurs could meet the Rockets again in the playoffs this year, and I’d expect Popovich to use a similar strategy in guarding Harden this time around.

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Avoiding personal fouls prevents the opposition from getting to the line for easy points, keeps opposing offensive players from getting into a rhythm, and it helps to avoid the bonus in each quarter.

San Antonio will continue to play this way as long as Gregg Popovich is manning the sidelines, and that tradition will hopefully live on once Pop decides to put away the clipboard for good.

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