Even Though The Spurs Are At .500, That Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Formidable Foes

By Gregory Moore
Updated: November 4, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs are at .500 after just two games and already people are thinking that they are very beatable.

As a matter of fact, many fans have already started thinking such thoughts prior to the first game at the AT&T Center and the basis of their thought patterns were based off of the Spurs just not being able to beat the good teams.

Yet these very same fans are not looking at the schedule in so much as they are looking at the match ups and are basically assuming that because this great player or that great player has game, the Spurs are nothing more than putty in their opponents’ hands.

That not true because even though this team is at .500 right now, that doesn’t mean their opponents will have an easy time this season. The Spurs are a formidable foe even after two games.

The notion that a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers is better than the Spurs is conceivable and after Friday’s loss, that assumption could be very plausible as a definitive point of fact for some.

However, before the breakdown of the Cavs’ loss can be properly assessed, one has to look at just how tough the 2006-07 schedule is for the silver and black. To begin with, the Spurs will have sixteen ‘back to back’ games this season.

The Spurs began their season with an away game in Dallas in which they won and their home opener against the Cavs; which they lost.

The Spurs then have the following back to back games on their schedule: Nov. 5 – Toronto/Nov. 6 – New York, Nov. 14 – Houston/Nov. 15 – CHARLOTTE, Nov. 19 – Sacramento/Nov. 20 – Portland, Nov. 26 – Seattle/Nov. 27 – Golden State.

Dec. 10 – Los Angeles Lakers/Dec. 11 – LA Clippers – Dec. 13 – MINNESOTA/Dec. 14 – New Orleans, Dec. 22 – HOUSTON/Dec. 23 – New Orleans Jan. 2 – Cleveland/Jan. 3 – Minnesota, Jan. 9 – Portland/Jan. 10 – Denver, Jan. 21 – Philadelphia/Jan. 22 – Boston Feb. 13 – New Jersey/Feb. 14 – Detroit, Feb. 20 – DENVER/Feb. 21 – Atlanta Mar. 2 – ORLANDO/Mar. 3 – Houston, Mar. 5 – LA Clippers/Mar. 6 – Portland, Mar. 25 – Seattle/Mar. 26 – Golden State Apr. 15 – Dallas/Apr. 16 – Memphis.

Why is this a big deal? Because for any basketball team in the NBA, back-to-back games are very difficult. For the Spurs, they are extremely difficult because you really cannot play soft on a front end to win the game and you don’t want to exert all of your energy to not be able to compete on the back end of the back to back.

If this still doesn’t make any sense, then let’s break down the first back to back games this team had this week: the 97-91 win over the Dallas Mavericks and the 88-81 loss to the Cavaliers.

THE TALE OF TWO BOX SCORE SHEETS When an NBA team wins, what’s the most important piece of information a fan should look at? It’s the box score sheet or as we like to call it, the final box. Even if you never see a game, if you look at the box score and read the numbers, you can actually figure out what happened in a basketball game.

So lets do a quick exercise of deciphering a basketball game from just a bunch of numbers. The first game we’re going to look at is the Dallas game of Nov. 2nd and let’s look past the final score of 97-91.

Looking at the box score, where do you think the Spurs won the game? What statistic shows you HOW they won the game? For this game, it is in the field goal attempts/completed category.

Doesn’t sound exactly like the truth does it? But it is and the reason why it is the truth is because if you know something about a team that shoots a lot, statistically they will falter down the stretch.

The Mavs had a FG category summation of 38-88. The Spurs’ final numbers in that category were 34-69. Already you can see the discrepancy and that is coming from the sheer number of attempts that Mavs’ had.

The nineteen more attempts were mainly jump shots. How can that be determined so easily? By also looking at the points in the paint category. For the Mavs, they had 30; the Spurs had 34.

Finally you also have to look at the box score and look at the percentages. More often than not, if a team wins the statistical battle, they will win the basketball game. This was the case here as well.

The Spurs led the Mavs in the three most important categories: field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage. By just reading a few of the statistics in the box score from that game, you are now able to tell people who lost and won that game.

Does this axiom hold true from Friday’s game as well? Of course it does. Let’s take the same parameters deployed on the Dallas example and let’s use them on the 87-81 loss to the Cavaliers.

Without seeing the game, could you determine exactly how the Spurs lost to King James and his royal court of Cavaliers? You sure can and you can use the same explanation of winning key statistical categories as our foundation.

Just like in the Dallas example in which the Spurs had won the statistical category, the Cavaliers led in those same categories for this game. The Cavs’ led in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and at the charity stripe.

Where as the Spurs led in the points in the paint category, the fact that the Cavs’had a better field goal percentage outweighs that argument. The PIP stat is a sub category that is misleading at times because if you don’t look at the field goal category, you will not fully understand who scored and how they scored.

MISSED FREE THROWS CONSTANTLY STRANGLES THIS TEAM As easy as it would be to blame the sixteen back-to-back games on why the Spurs could lose to teams like the Cavaliers, which would be a misnomer of gigantic proportions.

What hurts this team more than anything else is their poor free throw shooting performance and it was this precise point of emphasis that did the Spurs in once again. And once again the focal point of the failure lies with their franchise player, Tim Duncan.

Duncan’s performance at the line against the Cavaliers is very indicative as to how bad this team shoots from the charity stripe. In the 2000-01 season, Duncan shot 79% from the charity stripe, his career best mark. The following season he shot 71%, his third best behind the 1999-2000 mark of 76%.

But from the 2002 season forward, he has been on a downward spiral that has culminated in last year him shooting 62%. Currently for his career, Duncan is shooting 68% from the line but for someone that has as many touches as he does, the lack of production is waning on his team’s overall performance.

Strangely enough though, Duncan isn’t the only who struggles with this fundamental aspect of the game. Bruce Bowen is often the player who gets sent to the line when teams want to put a bad free throw player in a crunch time scenario.

Bowen is shooting 56% for his career and he has never been a great free throw shooter. And between Duncan and him, teams have found a small advantage to possibly use this hindrance to their advantage. Coach Gregg Popovich knows that his team’s free throw shooting woes are a big problem.

“Free throws are always a concern,” Popovich said in a recent interview printed in the San Antonio Express-News. “They’ve always been an Achilles’ heel for us. That’s just the way it is.”

If things were being corrected, that may be a statement that can simply be brushed aside. However that is simply not the case and with NBA players not being as fundamentally adept at the art of free throw shooting like their predecessors of the 1980s and 1990s, what is an Achilles’ heel for the Spurs is also fast becoming the norm to teams that are actually championship caliber in nature.

PAST PERFORMANCES NOT INDICATIVE TO FUTURE OUTCOMES While the free throw shooting was indeed one of the nails that ended the Spurs’ dominance of the Cavaliers since the 1988-89 season, don’t let that or the team’s performance in that game be your guide point to how bad this team may be or how good this team could be.

What is now being assessed by so many in the media and on website forums is the “Monday Night Quarterbacking” that goes on because one thing or another just didn’t happen at a time when many thought a win against a team like the Cavs were a sure thing. You can use statistical data to formulate any hypothesis you want.

For example, if I wanted to paint a gloom and doom scenario of how the Spurs will be .500 on their back to backs and that they will always lose the back end of those games, I could run some statistic like whenever the Spurs have won the first game of the back to back, they are .893.

However when they are facing an equal or more talented foe in the rubber match game, the team is .429. With some numbers you can manipulate things to fit your purpose quite easily.

And that is why you do not necessarily need to look the past performance of Friday’s game to speculate on the future success of this team. This is just one game in which the Spurs did not execute their game plan like they normally would. This is just one game in which the Spurs did not take command from their opponents because they were constantly trailing in the game.

You can say that the Spurs faltered at the 5:26 mark of the first quarter when they just had a two-point lead of 11-8 over the Cavs. You can say a lot of things about this game and they may all be very true. Yet does that mean that this team will not make the playoffs? No.

Does it mean that this team will have a hard time against the good teams like the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers or other teams that have gotten better over seasons past? No.

The fact that the Spurs are at .500 is no big deal when you are just two games into the new season. As a matter of fact, there will be a lot of teams that will be in this same predicament for about six weeks or so as they try to find their groove and chemistry for the stretch run that takes place after the All-Star break.

But if you are trying to write off a team like the spurs simply because you saw a young team like the Cleveland Cavaliers win in a tight game, that doesn’t mean that the Spurs are a bad team. It simply means that on that night, the Cavaliers executed better than the Spurs did.

It means that for one night, the Cavaliers were a more formidable opponent than the Spurs were but that doesn’t mean that the Cavs will go on to the NBA Finals. The season doesn’t end after game two of opening week; it ends after the 82nd game has been played and the playoffs are under way.

That is the goal of the San Antonio Spurs and if that means losing right now early to find consistency, they’ll take this loss.