Aging Spurs remain model of consistency in NBA
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The San Antonio Spurs may not boast the NBA's flashiest roster but the team have epitomized consistency for well over a decade.
The Spurs have made the NBA postseason in 16 consecutive years, an impressive stretch that includes four league titles. And since the arrival of the two future hall-of-famers in head coach Gregg Popovich and forward Tim Duncan, San Antonio have been basketball's model of sustained success.
This season almost began with an early tumble. A tumultuous beginning to the second quarter of a recent game had the Spurs in a 31-18 hole to a Los Angeles Lakers team playing without injured Kobe Bryant.
But staunch defense -- a staple in the squad's enduring success -- pushed the team to a 91-85 road victory last Friday that improved their record to 2-0.
After last season's heartbreaking NBA Finals loss, up 5 points with 28 seconds in Game Six against the Miami Heat, San Antonio faces the advancing age of its stars in Duncan (37), Tony Parker (31) and Manu Ginobili (36) while fighting to remain a legitimate contender.
In three of their championships, the common thread was the core four: Popovich, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. The Spurs have repeatedly found role players to complement its stars.
One key addition has been guard Danny Green. A second-round draft pick and Cleveland Cavaliers castoff, the 26-year-old has started a majority of the team's games since 2011.
One would think the mysterious "Spurs Way" would be inordinately demanding. It's anything but.
"It's basketball. Play basketball, understand the game," Green said.
"For the most part, everybody has the freedom to do whatever they want offensively," the fifth-year North Carolina product added. "Defense gets you the minutes to get on the floor."
The 2013 NBA Finals featured an incendiary Green -- he sunk a Finals record 27 threes. Green insisted that it was the offense's design.
"Guys do a great job of moving the ball, and when you move the ball, you get open shots," he explained.
Rocket science? It's arithmetic: Get open, get shots.
The Spurs are also known for their many international players. This season's roster boasts an NBA record 10 non-American players.
"We've always enjoyed the international flavor for quite a while now. I think it adds to the group," Popovich said. "It's bigger than basketball that way; people learn to come together and realize there are different places and cultures in the world and different ways of looking at things."
Parker, the Frenchman, was the best player on Friday, scoring 24 points and recording four rebounds and six assists. In Duncan's absence (chest contusion), the team tapped Parker's countryman Boris Diaw to start.
The offense did not change with Diaw; Popovich deadpanned that it was the "same boring stuff." So good, it's boring: a distillation of the Spurs over the years.
Through two seasons, forward Kawhi Leonard has transformed into a long-armed defensive menace for San Antonio, the young piece that will outlast Duncan and Co.'s respective retirements.
He shined in the Finals, harassing MVP LeBron James with his defense and fierce offensive rebounding. The easy comparison to make for Leonard is former Spurs swingman Bruce Bowen. But that's a lazy errand Popovich doesn't waste time on.
" couldn't dribble, couldn't pass. He shot threes in the corner and played great D," Popovich said "So we want Kawhi to match Bruce's great D first and foremost. But after that, he's a much better offensive player."
The succinct and even-keeled Leonard downplays his increased role in the offense, saying he doesn't "think about it too much."
"We have (shown more leniency in Leonard's game)," Popovich said. "Last year was really his first year to really play and understand the system and what was going on. So now I actually call plays for him, and he can rebound it and get it up the floor himself."
"It's what I've been working for," the 22-year-old Leonard said of Popovich's trust. "I just always wanted to be a hard-working player."
"I want him to make me come to him and say, 'Hey, that was a bad shot.' I don't want to come to him and say, 'Hey, you know you're open. Shoot the ball, make a move.' I want him to expand his game and do whatever he feels like doing out there," Popovich said.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)