Entering the 2016–17 NBA season, the question wasn’t whether or not the Golden State Warriors would be good; the question was, how good? After all, it’s not every day that a team who finishes the previous season with a 73-9 record while bolstering two of the best shooters in the league — one who happens to be the two-time reigning MVP — manages to pull off the coup of the summer by signing Kevin Durant. It’s safe to say that on paper, this group looks invincible. Clearly, however, someone forgot to tell the San Antonio Spurs.
On opening night, in a showdown between the two top powers in the Western Conference, the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and did more than just expose the most hyped team in the NBA, they embarrassed them. San Antonio shot 48% from the field, knocked down 50% of its triples, dominated on the glass, and won convincingly 129-100. While the rest of us tried to process how this happened, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stuck to the script; in his”Pop”–like way, he downplayed the victory:
Well, I thought to come out of the gate and guard a team that runs offense as well as they do, I thought our new guys and young guys did a good job of that. We made some mistakes and got burned for it, but I thought overall, for the first outing with kind of a different group, I thought they did a good job.
A good job? Come on, enough with the modesty. In a single game, the San Antonio Spurs reminded everyone that the West is more than a one-horse town. While they’ll never say it, we will: The Spurs are the ones they should fear.
San Antonio finished last season with a 67-15 mark, the best defensive rating (99) in basketball, and a ridiculous 40-1 record at home. They’re not the flashiest group in the National Basketball Association. But there’s a reason the Spurs maintain a level of excellence we rarely see in professional sports. Simply put, it’s all about the team.
Despite a roster full of talented individuals, the Spurs players focus on team success rather than personal recognition. Tim Duncan always operated this way. He passed this mindset on to the club’s current franchise superstar, Kawhi Leonard, who rarely bats an eyelash when the San Antonio faithful hit him with the “MVP” chants:
The only time I hear that is when I come in to the game. You know, I’ll never try to win an award. I’m out there just playing for my team. If I get noticed for my individual performance, that’s what happens. Other than that, I’m just trying to win the game.
It’s still early in the season, but the San Antonio Spurs’ team-first mentality has already paid dividends. Currently, the team is averaging 108.8 points per game (eighth of 30) and giving up just 93.0 points a night (sixth of 30). The Spurs rank in the top 10 in both offensive rating (114.8) and defensive rating (98.2). Yet they continue to go about their business like it was any other day.
Season after season, San Antonio continues to be the standard by which we measure all other NBA teams. They amaze other clubs at their level of consistency and general excellence. Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after his team’s recent 106-99 defeat at the hands of the Spurs: “You absolutely respect and enjoy how San Antonio just finds a way to stay ahead of the curve, continue to reinvent and be incredibly efficient.”
With so much basketball left to play this season, it’s too soon to know how things will turn out. Despite their early struggles, we fully expect the Golden State Warriors to find their rhythm, develop chemistry, and challenge for another NBA title. We also know the Cleveland Cavaliers have no intention of giving up their crown without a fight. Regardless, while everyone focuses on the clubs with the big names and the flashy highlight reels, the San Antonio Spurs continue to do what they’ve always done — win.