VIDEO: GameTime: On the sizzling Spurs
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As the Golden State Warriors have won 23 straight games to start the season, the San Antonio Spurs have gone largely under the radar. Less than seven weeks into the season, it’s already fair to ask the “Warriors vs. the field” question, but it won’t be until Jan. 25 when the champs face what could be their toughest opponent.
The perfect Warriors are five games ahead of the 18-5 Spurs in the standings, but point differential says they’re a little more evenly matched than that. The Warriors’ point differential gives them an “expected” record of 21-2, while the Spurs’ point differential would put them at 20-3.
The champs have been the best offensive team we’ve ever seen, but the Spurs have taken their title as the league’s best defense. In fact, while the Warriors top the list of best offenses of the last 39 years (since the league starting counting turnovers in 1977) by a wide margin, the Spurs top the same list on the other end of the floor.
The No. 1 defense of the last 39 years won’t won’t face the No. 1 offense of the last 39 years until late January. The Warriors have a better chance of staying atop their list in the meantime, but there should never be any doubting the San Antonio defense. This is the fourth straight season that the Spurs have ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency, the 15th time they’ve done it in Tim Duncan’s 19-year career, and the 20th time they’ve ranked in the top five in the 27 seasons since David Robinson‘s rookie year.
This season, the Spurs have benefited a bit from having played only six games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, while playing 11 games against the bottom 10. But they’ve still held those top-10 offenses under a point per possession, and only Miami has defended better against the group.
The Spurs’ defense has been particularly good early in games. They’ve allowed just 83.6 points per 100 possessions (9.5 fewer than any other team) in the first quarter and just 89.8 (3.3 fewer than any other team) in the second quarter. Opponents have shot 40.4 percent from the field and just 29.5 percent from 3-point range in the first half against San Antonio.
The Spurs aren’t only defending shots well (they’re No. 1 in forcing mid-range shots), but they also lead the league in both defensive rebounding percentage and opponent free throw rate, putting up historical marks in those categories.
San Antonio has grabbed 80.5 percent of available defensive rebounds, the *highest mark since the league started counting offensive and defensive rebounds separately in 1973. And their opponent’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.218 is the second lowest mark of the last 43 years. Their opponents have scored only 22.6 points per game at the free throw line or on second chances.
* It’s worth noting that offensive rebounding has been trending down for a while. In fact, Cleveland (79.8 percent) and Charlotte (79.7 percent) are also eclipsing the highest mark in NBA history, held by last year’s Hornets (79.3 percent). Brooklyn (78.1 percent), Detroit (78.0 percent) and Minnesota (77.6 percent) would also rank in the top 10 all-time.
In the summer of 2012, after two seasons out of the top 10, the Spurs realized they needed to get back to defending an en elite level. That realization helped them get back to The Finals and eventually win their fifth championship. Three and a half years later, the defense is still going strong.