San Antonio Spurs’ stifling defense is sparking a season resurgence

San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Don’t look now, but the San Antonio Spurs are back to being a top 10 NBA defense. Now having won four of their last five games on the road, the Spurs have moved 3.5 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans to remain a strong contender for a spot in next month’s playoff play-in tournament.

While Derrick White‘s emergence has been vital in the Spurs’ recent success, it’s their team defense that’s gotten them back on track with 16 games left in the regular season. Monday’s 109-94 win over the Pacers was the second time in a row San Antonio held an opponent under 95 points — the first time they’ve done so in consecutive games this season.

What has been different about the Spurs’ defense in the last two games? Mainly two things: effort and luck. Even without their best interior defender in Jakob Poeltl against Phoenix, San Antonio’s defensive effort was intense from the start. The Spurs had 10 steals and nine blocks in the contest, establishing a lead as high as 31 points in their biggest win of the year.

Still, San Antonio enjoyed some defensive luck in both games as well. Many of their losses have resulted from teams lighting it up from downtown, but Phoenix and Indiana struggled mightily in that department.

The Suns made just six of 27 attempts from beyond the arc (22.2 percent), while the Pacers converted on 8-of-34 (23.5 percent). A good amount of these looks were wide-open, which is where good fortune comes in, but the Spurs’ defense has also played a role.

The San Antonio Spurs are making fewer defensive mistakes

San Antonio is having fewer defensive miscommunications than they did in the past, mainly on switches. While I have criticized Gregg Popovich for shortening the team’s rotation to exclude Devin Vassell and Luka Samanic (something I still stand by), it could be helping with the team’s defensive chemistry.

Sharing the floor with guys you’re more familiar with helps you learn their defensive tendencies quicker, and the Spurs are becoming more cohesive on that end of the floor. Still, there have been numerous occasions of the Spurs being a step late but getting bailed out by wide-open misses from good shooters.

The biggest thing to watch for in their back-to-back home games this week will be opponent 3-point shooting, something they’ve been struggling with at the AT&T Center all season long.

For whatever reason, teams rarely have off nights from the perimeter in San Antonio. The 39.4 percent opponents are shooting is the second-highest being allowed by a team at home in the NBA.

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Hitting the court with appropriate effort on defense is one thing the Spurs can always control, and they’ll need plenty of it when they face Miami and Detroit on Wednesday and Thursday.