SAN ANTONIO — Throughout the first six weeks or so of the NBA’s regular season, the dominant story line throughout the league has been the Golden State Warriors’ quest for history. But the Warriors haven’t been the only one to play well thus far. For most teams, being left in the shadows amid a successful start would be considered a problem, an annoyance, a slight … something.
But the San Antonio Spurs aren’t most teams.
So while everyone has focused their attention on the Warriors, the greatest organization in sports has simply reeled off another terrific start to the season in the relative obscurity of South Texas — and they couldn’t be happier.
“We are the Spurs,” Manu Ginobili said. “We don’t get the national attention. We don’t demand that attention. We don’t ask for that attention.
“If it comes, it comes, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Most of the time, it doesn’t, despite the fact San Antonio has consistently been at the top of the NBA for the past 25 years. But, as Ginobili said, the Spurs don’t ask for — and, frankly, don’t want — the attention that a team like the Warriors are getting. In fact, two of their biggest stars, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, would be happy if they never had to deal with a microphone or a tape recorder again in their lives.
Their head coach, Gregg Popovich, isn’t too far behind them.
“I don’t know,” Popovich said, when asked before his team’s latest demolition job, Monday night’s 118-81 win over the Utah Jazz, if the attention Golden State has received has benefited the Spurs. “I don’t think about that stuff. I don’t know how you would judge that anyway, or how you would gauge it or qualify it.
“We just do what we do. We’ve been the same boring team for 20 years, and whatever happens, happens, and we move on.”
You may be able to argue the Spurs are boring — though, truthfully, it’s been several seasons since they have been the hard-to-watch defensive menace they were the first half of Duncan’s career. Instead they have been one of the more fun teams to watch in the league. But whatever iteration of the Spurs you’re discussing, they are devastating in their efficiency at both ends of the court. That’s how the Spurs are third in the NBA in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, making them the only team in the NBA to be in the top three in both categories.
Take Monday night, for example. Yes, Utah was set up to lose, given the Jazz lost an overtime heartbreaker to the Thunder in Oklahoma City 24 hours earlier and were playing their fifth game in seven days. But that didn’t stop the Spurs from taking complete advantage of the situation, jumping out to a 17-4 lead halfway through the first quarter and spending most of of the game with twice as many points as the Jazz and enjoying a 40-point second-half cushion.
Leonard (22 points, seven rebounds) erased Utah’s best player, Gordon Hayward (four points on 1-for-5 shooting) from the game, and the Spurs did pretty much whatever they wanted from beginning to end.
“We played very well, but they had a tough night,” Popovich said, stating the obvious. “They were in an overtime game last night, and [injured center Rudy] Gobert is not there for them, which makes a big difference.
“We caught a break tonight, without any doubt. But you still have to go play it, and I thought our focus was good.”
San Antonio’s focus has been laser-sharp all season long. Despite the fact they’ve lost four more games than the Warriors to this point, Monday’s victory meant that the Spurs actually moved ahead of the Warriors in point-differential, outscoring opponents by 13.2 points per game, compared to 13.1 points per game for their 24-1 counterparts.
“They’re equally good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the two teams. “They’re two of the best teams in the NBA.”
Let’s be clear: at this point, they are the two best teams in the NBA. And, even though the season is only six weeks old, there should be nothing any true fan of basketball should want more at this point than for the Warriors and Spurs to face each other in the postseason.
The contrast in styles alone – Golden State is wreaking havoc with its small-ball lineups while San Antonio went out this summer and signed the best free agent available, LaMarcus Aldridge, to pair with Tim Duncan in a throwback to the 1990s – is a fascinating one. Add in the other personal dynamics at play, including Steve Kerr’s lengthy relationship with Popovich and the number of times the Spurs have beaten the Warriors in recent seasons – including a blowout win in San Antonio for the Spurs last April in the last meeting between the two teams – and the Spurs are the only team left in the NBA with at least an opportunity for a mental edge against the defending champions.
But while the Warriors continue to garner all of the headlines, and the talk of them chasing win streaks and regular season win total records, the Spurs continue to methodically march along, racking up wins and destroying opponents all with one thing in mind: being ready in the spring whenever the (hopefully) inevitable clash with the Warriors finally takes place.
Until then, though, they aren’t going to spend any time worrying about anyone else.
“I’m 38,” Ginobili said. “I really don’t care what’s going on around the league. I used to worry a lot about the Lakers, but now I’m at a moment, and I think Pop, too, and most of the team, where we care about us, how we can improve. It’s still so early … even if the Warriors win 81 games in the season, what can we do about it?
“We can focus on them when we play them, but after that we have to be the best team we can be in March, April and when the playoffs start. So I’m not that concerned. I’m actually having fun watching them. It’s been crazy, the streak, the energy, the confidence they’re playing with. I think it’s great for the league.”
It’s also great for the Spurs, who once again are right where they want to be: with no one paying any attention as they have their way with the NBA.