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The San Antonio Spurs Continue To Fly Under The Radar, Like Horror Villains

Chris Bosh likely didn’t know just how right he was after Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

Game 3, you’ll recall, was an absolute slaughter. The San Antonio Spurs crushed the Miami Heat by the third largest margin of victory in NBA Finals history, 113-77. And when ESPN’s J.A. Adande spoke to Bosh the next day, after the Heat had a chance to go over the game tape, Bosh’s description of the game was perfectly apt:

 

What Bosh didn’t say — and potentially didn’t know — is that when the Spurs are involved, everything is a horror movie.

The most impressive thing about a classic Jason/Freddy/Michael Meyers horror villain is the stealth. Somehow, no matter how threatening the killer might be, he always manages to move through the darkest night and brightest day without attracting a bit of attention to himself. Be it a maniac wielding a chainsaw or an immortal burn victim slithering through dreams, no one is able to track his location from one minute to the next. Slowly, methodically, the killer makes his way through the township, never drawing attention or wandering eyes, always flying under the radar. It serves him well, of course; to be ignored and overlooked is the villain’s best friend, enabling him to strike where, when and whom he’d like, then disappear back into the shadows.

And such is existence for the Spurs, no matter how thoroughly they destroy their competition. They’re constantly winning, yet rarely celebrated. Hell, forget celebrations — they’re hardly even acknowledged. Were the NBA a three-legged race at Camp Crystal Lake, the Spurs would be Jason, dressed in full horror movie regalia and blending in among the campers despite being the largest and most menacing figure hovering over the festivities. For whatever reason, no matter how many times they wreak havoc on the league, they’re ignored.

It’s a trend that’s alive and well in 2013. A team that was a few bounces of the ball away from the championship last year has continued on their merry way, keeping their heads down and unmercifully hunting their prey. San Antonio is tied for the best record in the league at 9-1, having faced a more difficult schedule than Indiana, and we know that they’re once again taking the league by storm. But that knowledge is fleeting; as soon as we read the reports of the killer in town, we turn our attention back to the things we’d rather see. While we sit around the campfire and regale each other with tales of the Wolves and Pacers and get drunk as only teenagers can on the intoxicating allure of the Blazers and Warriors, the Spurs sit on the edge of the woods, waiting for us to prematurely declare our love for one of those teams with which infatuation comes so readily. The fire gleams off the eye of the villain we all know yet refuse to pay our attention.

When we take the team du jour back to the cabin to fool around with the notion that maybe this is the team that will take its place atop the NBA this year, the Spurs are there, machete at the ready, to chop down the object of our lust in the most gruesome way possible. They don’t want your affection or even your attention; they just want to do what they do best. No matter how many times you try to finish them off, be it in a hard-fought NBA Finals or a first round upset at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, they keep coming back. They won’t die. They won’t surrender.

Once the team you’ve just proclaimed your newfound love for is led to their demise at the hands of the Spurs, and once you’ve fled into the woods, they’ll just keep coming. You’ll trip, and find yourself conveniently inconvenienced by a tangle of weeds that won’t let you go. And steadily, without a hint of desperation or excitement, San Antonio will bear down on you. It’s always been inevitable, and you both know it. There is no flair to what they will do; you’ll struggle against what you know is coming, and the Spurs will put you out of your misery. Yet no matter how loudly you scream and try to draw the attention of your fellow campers, no one will take notice of your disappearance or of the villainous behemoth traipsing through the grounds — until, of course, it’s too late.

And, yes, it’s a bit boring at times. The most overplayed trope in horror is the invincible, stealthy, superhuman monster of a villain who cannot be vanquished — not for very long, at least. No one wants to see Jason chase a bunch of kids for the millionth time, not even if it’s in space. It’s almost impossible to compliment the Spurs without reaching for adjectives like “methodical” and “machine-like,” words that belie the complacency that comes with knowing that no matter what you do, San Antonio will be back for the next sequel, probably better than ever. Tim Duncan continues to defy age, and Tony Parker makes his case as the best point guard in the league on a nightly basis, even if no one’s watching. They’ve added Kawhi Leonard, which is like Michael Meyers adding a laser cannon to one arm while he swings his machete with the other; an already invincible amelioration of flesh and blade now comes equipped with the most modern of weapons, adding a component that pushes an unfair advantage into the realm of other teams’ nightmares. Even Tiago Splitter has taken game into the world of horror, a Bond villain crossing over into the world of indestructible horror movie antagonists. Shoot them, crush them between a vehicle and a tree, send them careening out an airlock, do whatever you’d do if you were in a horror movie; none of it will matter. The Spurs will not die.

The truly terrifying thing, though, is that the Spurs might not yet be at 100% of their villainy. Their defense is once again top-notch; they rank just below the much-celebrated Pacers with a 91.6 defensive rating. But the offense isn’t quite up to San Antonio standards at this point — they’re only the 12th best team on that end of the court, sporting a 102.7 offensive rating that has them tied with the lackluster Denver Nuggets. Even with their slow start on offense, however, they lead the league in net rating, outscoring their opponents by over 11 points per 100 possessions.

And there’s reason to believe that the offense will pick up as the season progresses. True, Manu Ginobili has continued his gradual descent down the mountain of age, taking another step back this year while playing just over 24 minutes per game as coach Gregg Popovich tries to spare him the wear and tear of the regular season. But Splitter’s numbers are a bit below his usual field goal percentage; a slight uptick back toward his career average would help lift San Antonio from their offensive morass. Even more frightening for fans of other teams, however, is the potential for Leonard to continue his upward trajectory. His growth was slowed this summer by numerous factors, including the fact that that the Spurs played so deep into June, but his focus was on improving all facets of his game in the little downtime that he had. He’s shown flashes of that improvement so far this year, though both his percentage on 3-pointers and 3-point attempt rate are down in the early part of the season. If and when those numbers rebound, Leonard’s performance will buoy San Antonio’s offense, particularly as he gets more and more comfortable as a bigger part of the Spurs’ system. For now, his .184 win shares/48 minutes and stellar defense will have to suffice.

This isn’t a call to arms, asking you to appreciate San Antonio’s excellence of consistency. We are who we are, and likewise the Spurs. Instead, consider it a clarion call, warning of the enemy at the door. The knocks against the wooden pane might seem faint now, but they’ll grow louder and louder as the body count continues to rise, until you can no longer ignore the clamor. And by then, it will be too late. A hero might step forward and vanquish the Spurs at some point, but today is not that day. For now, the horror movie killer walks among us, the discreet nature of his prowling a spectacle to behold — if only we knew well enough to pay him any mind. The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best teams in the league, yet no one’s talking about them. And as they clean their blade of the remnants of their last victim, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Statistical support courtesy of nba.com/stats and basketball-reference.com

Andrew Lynch

When God Shammgod created the basketball universe, Andrew Lynch was there. His belief in the superiority of advanced statistics and the eventual triumph of expected value-based analytics stems from the fact that he’s roughly as old as the concept of counting. With that said, he still loves the beauty of basketball played at the highest level — it reminds him of the splendor of the first Olympics — and the stories that spring forth from the games, since he once beat Homer in a game of rock-paper-scissors over a cup of hemlock. Dude’s old.