Here Conor O’Mahony discusses the San Antonio Spurs’ recent return to form, which has seen them win five games in a row.
Obituaries were being written for the 2015 San Antonio Spurs two weeks ago. They had lost four games in a row, culminating in a pummelling by The Portland Trailblazers 111-95 on the 25th of February.
Sports reporters, as they do whenever the Spurs get mired in a slump, were fast to proclaim that this was the end of the road for this great team.
Tony Parker was past his prime and “entering a new phase of his career,” according to many analysts. Kawhi Leonard had not developed into the franchise player he looked destined to become after his heroics in the NBA Finals last season..
To be fair to the naysayers the team has struggled for much of the season. It is said often about this team ”As Parker goes, so goes the Spurs.” Well for most of the season Parker has not played at the level that made him a consensus top three point guard in the league over the last decade.
Across the board his stats have been down, his midrange shot, which opens the door for him to get to the rim has been missing for most of the season, he has shot a paltry 39% from between 16 feet and the three-point line, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
For the season he has averaged 6.1 points in the paint per game, his fewest since 2001-02, his first NBA season. A worrying trend in any man’s language.
However, what has not been reported is that Parker has been hobbled by a myriad of injuries all season. Nagging hamstring injuries have affected the elevation in his jump shot and his acceleration when attacking the ring.
Over the last five games however there has been a big upswing in T.P’s production, and for the first time all season he looks like he is going at full tilt. His burst is back, and during this winning streak a regular dose of his shots have come from within the restricted area.
The result? Need you really ask? The Spurs have reeled off five consecutive wins, climaxing in Parker going off on Sunday for a season-high 32 points against the Bulls. Back to his old, aggressive ways Parker continually knifed his way to the rim, where seven of his nine conversions were located. Crisis? What crisis?
Another major reason for the resurgence of San Antonio has been the play of Kawhi Leonard. He has had a rollercoaster year. Leonard went from being crowned Finals MVP last June at the age of 22 to missing large portions of this year with a concoction of injuries, including a mysterious eye infection and a niggling hand injury.
Leonard missed the entire pre-season, along with Tiago Splitter, which was a big reason why the offence struggled so mightily at the beginning of this season. However, Leonard recently got a clean bill of health and has started to find his feet, particularly on the offensive end.
Kawhi has had at least 20 points in each of the last four games, taking on a bigger role in the offence as of late.
Defensively he has been typically brilliant, wreaking havoc against the Bulls on Sunday, with his active hands in no small part contributing to the team forcing 20 turnovers. Coach Pop was quick to heap praise on the 4th year man out of San Diego State after the game,
“We’re not disruptive, Kawhi is.”
Patty Mills is humming along nicely, playing himself back into shape, and the man who played such a crucial role during last season’s championship run also had a big game against Chicago on Sunday, dropping 15 points.
Manu Ginobili had 16 points in a very impressive 25 minutes, and looks ready to contribute to another run. The ageless Tim Duncan had an off night Sunday, but has been the Spurs’ most consistent performer all season, and we know he will be ready to bring it come April.
After watching San Antonio closely over this five-game win streak, one thing is unmistakable. As other teams are beginning to flounder in the dog days of March, The Spurs are starting to move into top gear.
Their pace on offence has looked much better and if they can avoid injuries between now and the end of the season they will be a tough outfit for anyone come play-off time.
Now occupying the Western Conference’s number six seed, the Spurs are ready to scrap with the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks for mid-level play-off positions that once appeared out of reach.
Postpone the funeral, crumple up the obituaries and embrace the inevitable, The Spurs are back on track.
Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena
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