The Spurs oozed with extreme confidence heading into their homestand the other day, and not simply because the vaunted Warriors were missing vital cogs DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala due to injury. Having previously prevailed in 10 straight matches at the AT&T Center and in the midst of an eight-game winning run, they figured they were prepared to take the measure of the still-formidable challenge that awaited them. Success begets more success, with the adage no more evident than in the context of their consistent competitiveness through two decades under the Gregg Popovich dispensation.
To be sure, the Spurs looked nowhere near to being, well, themselves prior to the turn of the month. They emerged from their latest Radio Road Trip foray bruised and battered, their 1-7 slate reflective of their utter lack of identity on defense. Certainly, their poor performances on the side of the court Popovich prefers to have them hang their hats on are reflective of their makeup; certain regulars on their rotation aren’t exactly known for excellent — or, in cases, even serviceable — on-ball coverage. And while they accounted for the departures of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Kyle Anderson, they didn’t plan on All-Defensive Team selection Dejounte Murray sitting out the season to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
At the time of the Spurs’ uncharacteristic swoon, Popovich appeared prepared to accept his charges’ shortcomings. Behind the scenes, however, they continued to put in the work required for them to forge ahead. For all their individual deficiencies, they believed the long-standing culture of the black and silver would invariably enable them to be greater than the sum of their parts. And, lo and behold, they’ve been proven right: Since their brutal nosedive, they’ve surged on the strength of defensive metrics at or near the top of the National Basketball Association.
Fool’s gold? Perhaps not. Of the Spurs’ nine straight victories, six have been against squads with records no worse than sixth in conference standings. More importantly, their list of conquests includes the league-leading Bucks, Nuggets, and Warriors. How well they’re able to keep plugging remains to be seen, but one thing’s clear: They understand that excellence has no limits, and that opportunities to improve abound, even in cases where the outcomes aren’t as desired.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.