After a season spent lying about with a championship hangover, the San Antonio Spurs finally look like title contenders again.
Following a 12-3 March campaign, they seem like the only legitimate Western Conference threat to the dominant Golden State Warriors. The Spurs have regained their dazzling, selfless form — the giant has awakened from its slumber, with no game more telling than their recent 114-95 road spattering of the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta has been the apple of the league’s eye for much of the year, running out to the East’s No. 1 seed with a formula that coach Mike Budenholzer brought over from the decade-plus tenure he had under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But the Spurs quickly reminded the league that no one plays their brand of ball as well as they do, with the win.
At the center of their resurgence is Tony Parker, who shot 56 percent from the field through March — an almost unheard-of figure for a point guard. Parker had shot around 40 percent for the previous two months, clearly exhibiting some malaise and creaky body issues, but now he’s back to being the dark horse leader that’s fueled the Spurs’ offense for years.
Alongside Parker’s rise back to prominence has been the continued improvement of Kawhi Leonard, who missed games with various injuries throughout the year but now looks more and more every day like he’s eclipsing Carmelo Anthony, to enter the rare air of top-three NBA small forwards — Kawhi’s still got work to do to stand up to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Leonard’s relentless length on defense is difficult for any team to account for.
The ever-steady Tim Duncan, meanwhile, continues to amaze. The soon-to-be-39-year-old has been the Spurs’ most consistent player in 2014-15, netting the seventh best defensive real plus-minus in the league — Leonard’s is fourth.
Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, is the rejuvenation of the league’s most consummate postseason wild card — Boris Diaw. Parker’s French friend is the crazy glue that turns the Spurs into something unstoppable, and that’s just what San Antonio might be again… even against the Warriors.
— John Wilmes