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San Antonio’s Western Conference climb spurred by defensive turnaround

San Antonio’s Western Conference climb spurred by defensive turnaround

Discomfort contorted Gregg Popovich’s face as he pondered a defensive demise nobody wanted to concede.

With the San Antonio Spurs mired in a three-game skid at the time, and mere minutes before the Feb. 27 start of a league-best nine-game winning streak, Popovich seemed to have given up hope for the return of a defensive foundation that had buttressed the franchise for more than two decades.

“We used to call it ‘stops on demand,'” he said, “where at certain points in the game, if you needed to get [defensive] stops, you could always depend on it. We haven’t acquired that identity yet.”

But 19 days after Popovich lamented potentially losing it, the Spurs leaned on a suffocating defense Monday night to best the defending champion Golden State Warriors 111-105, while limiting the visitors well below their 117.7-point scoring average.

Surging toward a 22nd consecutive postseason appearance, the Spurs have transformed from perhaps the worst defensive unit in Popovich’s 23 years at the helm to one of the best in the league.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“I’m just seeing an enigma that we’re trying to figure out,” Popovich had explained when San Antonio’s winning streak first started. “We were horrible a big part of the year, the first third or quarter or whatever you want to call it. Then we had that 10- [or] 12-game stretch where we were like first or second in every defensive category. And then we went back to 28th and 29th for a stretch.”

The Spurs ranked No. 21 in defensive efficiency before embarking on their annual rodeo trip Feb. 3, only to fall back even further in the NBA rankings. During their worst-ever rodeo trip (they finished with a 1-7 record), the Spurs bottomed out by yielding 122.1 points per 100 possessions, worst in the league during that stretch of the calendar.

It was not familiar territory for a Spurs team that hasn’t ranked outside of the top five in defensive efficiency since 2011-2012.

But it appears a real turnaround is at hand. The Spurs are second in defensive efficiency at 103.1 points allowed per 100 possessions since Feb. 26.2

The Spurs held Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined 4-of-22 in the first half Monday night, which registers as the duo’s worst combined field goal percentage in a first half in their careers (minimum 15 shots), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“To be the last team standing, you’ve got to be near the top in both [offensive and defensive] categories,” Popovich said. “You don’t have to be at the top in both, but being relatively close is important. That’s been the history.”

In each of San Antonio’s five championship seasons, the Spurs finished in the top three in defensive rating and 11th or better in offensive rating. Even last season, the Spurs ranked third in defensive rating despite two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard participating in just nine games.