One night after the Oklahoma City Thunder convinced a lot of people that they were the team to beat in the Western Conference by walloping the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs offered their retort: A measured, professional destruction of the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the 108-92 Game 1 win, the Spurs made perhaps the best point guard in the world look ordinary. They choked off Chris Paul's patented pick-and-roll game, eliminating his outlet options and forcing him to take contested shots, harassing him into a 3-for-13 showing, five turnovers and his lowest point total since Feb. 4. Without its primary weapon, Vinny Del Negro's team became a half-dimensional one-on-one team, and the results — 92 points, a 7-of-17 shooting performance by Blake Griffin, barely any offensive spark to speak of (save for the excellent bench play of Eric Bledsoe) — spoke for themselves.
On the other end, San Antonio calmly got just about whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted. Of the Spurs' 80 field-goal attempts in Game 1, 65 came either in the paint or from 3-point range, according to NBA.com's shot location statistics, and they made 32 of them (52.3 percent), including a shattering 13-of-25 mark from beyond the arc. That pushes their postseason success rate on long balls to 43.4 percent; the next most accurate team from distance, the Thunder, has hit 38.6 percent. To do all that on a night where point guard Tony Parker — who carved up the Utah Jazz in the opening round (21 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.5 assists in 32.8 minutes per game in the sweep) — missed 8 of 9 shots, scored just seven points and turned it over nine times in 38 minutes? That's pretty impressive.
Also impressive: The win was San Antonio's 15th straight. (As BDL editor emeritus/TBJ co-host J.E. Skeets noted Tuesday night, it's also the Spurs' 28th in their last 30 games and 43rd in their last 50.) They haven't lost since a 14-point defeat at the hands of the Lakers on April 11 — that was 35 days ago.
But it's not only that they've been winning; it's the way they've been winning. Just how good has Gregg Popovich's team been during its rampaging run? Let's take a look inside the numbers.
• They've been excellent on offense. The Spurs led the league in offensive rating (an estimate of how many points you scored per 100 possessions) during the regular season, averaging 110.9-per-100, according to Basketball-Reference.com's numbers. During the streak, they've ratcheted that up to 114.5-per-100, a rate only exceeded by five teams over the past 20 seasons — Jordan's Bulls in '91-'92 and '95-'96, the Shaq-Penny Magic and Payton-Kemp Sonics of '94-'95, and Steve Nash's '09-'10 Suns. So if you're thinking that ball movement you watched Tuesday night was, like, generationally great, you're not far off.
• They've been excellent on defense. The Spurs are clearly an offense-first team at this stage in their development, but they performed admirably on the other end during the season, finishing 11th in defensive rating (an estimate of how many points you allowed per 100 possessions) with a mark of 103.2-per-100. They've significantly tightened the screws over their last 15 games, allowing just 96.9 points per 100 opponent possessions — that rate that would have outpaced the league-leading units fielded by the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers this year if stretched over the course of a full season.
• Unsurprisingly, then, they've been dominant. Twelve of the 15 wins have come by double digits, and during the streak, San Antonio has averaged 110.9 points per game while giving up just 93.9 a night. That means its average — AVERAGE — margin of victory has been 17.6 points per game.
• They've gotten bench production ... San Antonio's reserves — an excellent group led by versatile veterans Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson, shooters Gary Neal and Matt Bonner, and second-year big man Tiago Splitter — have averaged 50.8 points per game over the 15-game winning streak, with a bench player acting as San Antonio's high scorer four times during the run.
• ... and strong play from their bookends ... Tim Duncan, who was excellent in Game 1, has averaged 18.3 points on 58.1 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 blocks during the streak. Parker, who finished fifth in MVP voting and was the Spurs' best player against Utah, has averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game over this stretch, hitting 56 percent from the floor and 80.6 percent from the line, while turning it over just 1.2 times per game.
• ... while keeping them fresh. Duncan's logged just under 28.5 minutes per game during the streak and has sat out four games entirely, while Parker's notched an average of 28.2 minutes per night and gotten two DNPs.
And those last three points might be the scariest thing about this run for the remaining teams in the playoffs — this run isn't just dominant, it looks to be pretty sustainable. This offense, this defense, this coaching, this depth ... they're not going to just go away on their own. Barring injury — he says as everyone in San Antonio knocks on wood — this Spurs team looks to be as good as it gets, and if they keep playing like this over the course of the next week, we're in for a heck of a Western Conference final.